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More car dealers change hands than ever

Berkshire Hathaway Inc.’s 2014 acquisition of car dealer Van Tuyl Group, the largest acquisition in the auto retail industry, paved the way for a record 2015 in dealership deals, a consultant said last week.

Some 242 deals were recorded in 2015, up 17% from the 206 deals in 2014, according to California-based consultants Kerrigan Advisors.

Nearly 30% those dealerships were bought by industry newcomers such as Warren Buffett’s Berkshire BRK.B, +0.41% BRK.A, -1.56%, which in 2014 bought Van Tuyl and turned it into the Berkshire Hathaway Automotive.

Kerrigan said it expects such “new entrants” to drive industry consolidation this year and beyond, although the proportion of sellers completing a successful sale “could decline as industry growth plateaus and dealership earnings come under pressure,” they said.

Auto sales have been “incredibly strong” due to low interest rates and the healthy economy, and car makers have been putting out good vehicles, said Ryan Kerrigan, managing director at Kerrigan Advisors.

“Put it all together and the dealership world is very profitable,” he said.

Sellers are generally second- and third-generation owners who are either taking advantage of a chance to sell their businesses at very high valuations or wanting to step back from the time-intensive business, Kerrigan said.

Buyers “have become much more diverse in the last year,” Kerrigan said. Dealerships historically were sold either to other dealership groups or one of the six publicly traded companies that manage auto dealerships in the U. S., he said. “Recently, a handful of large private equity firms and family offices have started making acquisitions, creating an entire new buyer pool.”

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