Top Dealer Groups – Not Much Change in 20 Years

Top Dealer Groups – Not Much Change in 20 Years

May 31, 2024 — Automotive News recently published its annual list of the industry’s top 150 dealer groups. Each year, I study the list to see the trends, and to determine whether any seismic industry changes may be lurking beneath the radar.

Until a couple of years ago when Ward’s stopped publishing it, the annual Ward’s Megadealer 100 was also on the required reading list (I managed the Ward’s ranking lists — the Mega Dealer 100, the Dealership 500, and the e-Dealer 100 for 10 years).

On a whim — and more so out of curiosity, I decided this year to go back 20 years to compare the top 100 dealer group data with the data today.

I used the Ward’s Mega Dealer 100 list which ranked dealer groups by their total revenue in 2003. For this year, I used the Automotive News Top 150 Dealer Group list which ranks dealer groups by new car sales. I manipulated the data to rank the groups by total 2023 revenue and eliminated the bottom 50 to maintain an “apples-to-apples” comparison.

I also broke the data out comparing the public and private dealer groups. Interestingly, not much has changed.

We have the same six publicly traded groups, and seven out of the top ten dealer groups in 2003 are part of the top ten in 2023. One 2003 group, Bill Heard, collapsed in September 2008 one of the early victims of the recession. Another group, the Van Tuyl organization, was acquired by William Buffet’s Berkshire Hathaway in 2015 and stopped reporting its data. Otherwise, It would still be on the list of the nation’s top ten largest groups.

What has changed is the number of dealerships owned by the top 100 groups which have added 1,966 stores bringing their total to 3,979. Revenue and sales numbers also increased. Total revenue jumped from $116 billion to $346 billion spurred by an increase of nearly 900,000 additional new and used vehicle sales (retail).

Click here to view our charts comparing dealer groups from 2003 with 2023.

What lessons can we glean from this data?

The most obvious – the auto retail industry is consistent, it moves slowly, and is well-protected from outside forces that have buffeted the industry over the last 20 years — pandemics, wars, recessions, inventory shortages, technology advancements, OEM attempts to overhaul their retail networks, and new players such as Tesla, pushing for direct-to-consumer models.

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