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Prime vaults into top 15 on dealer ranking

Westwood, Mass.-based Prime Automotive Group bounded into the top 15 on Automotive News' annual Top 150 Dealership Groups list, which ranks dealership groups based in the U.S. by new-vehicle retail sales. That was one of several revisions in the rankings due to ownership changes amid an active buy-sell market in 2017.

Prime surged 53 rungs, to No. 13, as its new-vehicle retail sales more than tripled to 46,163 from 13,855 a year earlier. The group's store count also increased more than that of any other group on the list, to 57 from 28, largely because of a change in the company's structure.

In October, Abrams Capital, a private-equity firm that had first invested in Prime Motor Group 11 years earlier, cashed out. It sold a majority stake in the group to GPB Capital, a New York asset-management company, which already had majority stakes in dealerships selling 24 brands in 10 states. David Rosenberg retained a minority stake and remains CEO of the renamed Prime Automotive.

With its new rooftop count of 57, Prime ranks 10th in total number of dealerships, behind Herb Chambers Cos., of Somerville, Mass., with 58.
In the past two months, Rosenberg has hired a CFO, vice president of corporate development and vice president of finance and insurance. His newly hired COO is Marty Collins, the former western regional vice president for Group 1 Automotive Inc. and former president of Gulf States Toyota.

That team will devise a strategy to grow Prime Automotive through acquisitions and other auto retail investments, Rosenberg said. "Our goal is to grow strategically. We'll go into a market and buy a group and then add individual dealerships to it."

After Prime, the largest increases in dealership count were at public dealership groups Lithia Motors Inc., of Medford, Ore., which added 15 stores, and Group 1, of Houston, which added 14. Both companies have been active players in the buy-sell market, expanding their geographic footprint as well as their store count.

Next were Fletcher Auto Group, of North Little Rock, Ark., and Price Simms Auto Group, of Larkspur, Calif., each adding 11. David Wilson Automotive Group, of Orange, Calif., rounded out the dealership groups with double-digit store growth, with 10. The dealership counts for Group 1 and David Wilson include stores outside of the U.S.

Last year saw 202 dealership buy-sell transactions, including a large number of multiple-store deals, down from 221 in 2016 and a record 240 in 2015, according to The Banks Report and analysis by Kerrigan Advisors.
The only change in the top 10 came as Larry H. Miller Dealerships, of Sandy, Utah, nudged ahead of Staluppi Auto Group, of North Palm Beach, Fla., to claim the No. 9 spot.

Larry H. Miller Dealerships' retail new-vehicle sales rose 7.7 percent to 68,694, while Staluppi Auto Group's fell 5.0 percent to 64,353. Industrywide U.S. light-vehicle sales fell 1.8 percent last year.

Ten dealership groups climbed 10 or more rungs in the latest ranking, while seven fell 10 spots or more.

The steepest drop was by Gillman Cos. The Houston dealership group dropped 20 rungs to No. 73, as its retail new-vehicle sales fell 8 percent to 16,691, reflecting in part a drop in its dealership count to 10 from 14 a year earlier.

No. 14 Suburban Collection, of Troy, Mich., shed seven stores from a year earlier, the largest sell-off of any group on the list, bringing its store count to 42. No. 6 Hendrick Automotive Group, of Charlotte, N.C., shed five dealerships, leaving it with 98. Of the groups that made this year's list and last year's, 26 trimmed their store count and 48 added dealerships.

The rankings are based on a survey by the Automotive News Data Center.

As always, some dealership groups, including some very large ones, chose not to participate. For example, Terry Taylor's extensive group of dealerships, for which his Automotive Management Services Inc., of West Palm Beach, Fla., provides support, didn't respond to the survey. Neither did Berkshire Hathaway Automotive.

Several large groups on last year's list disappeared from this year's list because they have been acquired.

Lithia, for instance, bought Shammas Automotive Group, of Los Angeles, which was No. 55 last year, as well as Day Automotive Group, of Monroeville, Pa., which was No. 128 last year.

This year's No. 70, Gee Automotive Cos., of Liberty Lake, Wash., acquired 16 stores owned by the Ron Tonkin Family of Dealerships. Ron Tonkin was No. 88 on last year's list. Gee's data came in too late last year for it to make the list.

In addition, this year the following retailers told the Automotive News Data Center that they would pass on responding: CAR Group, of Newport Beach, Calif., which ranked No. 19 last year; Lester Glenn Auto Group, of Toms River, N.J., which ranked No. 108; Perry Automotive Group, of Poway, Calif., which ranked No. 129; and Selma Auto Mall, of Selma, Calif., which ranked No. 146.

Galpin Motors Inc., of North Hills, Calif., jumped to No. 1 in terms of new retail units sold per dealership, with 3,487 units. It was No. 4 in that ranking last year. Last year's No. 1 in that category, David Wilson Automotive Group, slipped to No. 3, with 2,775, down from 6,701 a year earlier, as the group's dealership count jumped to 17 from seven.

Piercey Automotive Group, of Irvine, Calif., was No. 2 this year, with 3,182 new vehicles retailed per dealership, up from No. 3 last year, when it had 3,657. World Class Automotive Group, of Addison, Texas, was No. 4, with 2,482 new vehicles retailed per dealership, surging from No. 17 last year, with 1,870 units.

The number of dealership groups with total revenue that qualified them for the Billion Dollar Club rose to 61 from 59 a year earlier. The club had only 34 members five years ago.

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