AutoNation Inc. chief executive Mike Jackson called 2013 as "perfect" for the dealership group, but he is seeking more this year. "I'm pretty optimistic. The powerful drivers are still there," Jackson told Automotive News after disclosing Autonation’s strong profits in the fourth quarter of 2013. "The industry pretty much has its house in order, and so it should be a very profitable year for suppliers, manufacturers and retailers," Jackson said, expecting 3 to 5 percent in industry new-car sales growth this year – placing auto sales in the United States at the low 16-million-unit territory.
While AutoNation doesn't provide guidance for its own performance, its executives said the group has a strong footprint with dealerships in high-growth areas and a good balance of import, luxury and domestic-brand stores.
"We're very confident we're in the right place at the right time," AutoNation COO Michael Maroone remarked. He added that AutoNation is enjoying a strong rebound in the states that suffered the most from housing crunch during the recession like California, Nevada, Arizona and Florida. In the fourth quarter of 2013, business in both Arizona and Florida surged 12 percent.
Maroone noted that they are keeping an eye on import-brand sales since the segment is very competitive from a price point of view, noting that "there certainly is a lot of volume there."
He said that new-car profit margin for dealerships will stay under pressure. AutoNation, however, is not making any forecast on margin expansion, Maroone said. AutoNation logged a new-car margin of 6.5 percent surge in the fourth quarter of 2013, thanks to strong seasonal luxury-brand sales. The margin, however, dropped to 6.2 percent for full-year 2013.