For most people the thought of a used car dealer
conjures up images of a little clapboard shack on a corner gravel lot, with a
collection of "Cream Puffs" all driven by "a little old lady only on Sunday
morning and then only to church where it was downhill in both directions!" Well,
hold on to your hats folks, for there is a new kid on the block when it comes to
buying a used car, and they are a viable entry in this traditionally
"AutoNation USA" is the out-growth of Republic Industries, headquartered in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. Republic is
also the parent corporation behind the rental car giants Alamo and National. Currently this ever-growing conglomeration is the largest organization dealing with new cars
through its 370 franchises in 254 locations. The driving force behind this corporation is Chairman H. Wayne Huizenga, with his co-CEO Steven Berrard. John Costello fills
the position of President.
Huizenga made his star on the Fortune 200 Walk of Fame with his innovative ideas for taking out the garbage. Waste
Management, Inc. shook up the waste disposal business with new ideas and a high level of operating efficiency. His next venture was aimed at bringing millions of people
around the world their favorite home entertainment through the Blockbuster store chain with game and video rentals and sales.
The Master Plan
Using some of the same innovations Huizenga developed for making Blockbuster a household word, he has set out to give those same
customers a good car for their money, and to take a little of the "have I got a deal for you" worries out of the trade. AutoNation USA is well on the way to
becoming the first "Blockbuster" in this industry. While not the only used car super-store testing the waters, it appears that this new company is clearly the
leader of this trend, taking a business once ripe with scandal, and turning it around to gain the confidence of the public. We chose to feature AutoNation dealerships as
they are most representative of what the future may look like in the used car business.
Taking in the overall view of Republic Industries, and their AutoNation outlets, theirs is a grand-plan that makes you
wonder why no one thought of it before. By owning a number of retail new-car outlets, a direct line to the factory is established. Republicís car rental companies can
work with their own dealers and by placing fleet orders for thousands of cars each month, it only makes sense that the automakers give Republic dealerships and their
rental-car companies the best price possible, no haggling. After the cars have done their turn in the rental fleets, or are returned from lease agreements to the new car
dealers, AutoNation is a natural outlet for getting every penny possible out of each vehicle.
Used Cars went as a customer to several different Southern California and Nevada AutoNation locations to see how this company
operates first hand.
Upon arriving at the dealership, usually located
close to a freeway off-ramp, I found each facility was physically huge, on the
order of the largest new-car dealerships I have visited. Walking into the spacious display room, an official greeter met me at the door and pointed out the various
amenities offered to customers such as the complimentary coffee bar, the childrenís play land, and the giant screen TV with live sports coverage.
Rather than a sales person, AutoNation uses friendly "Sales Guides", and I had my own assigned to me to fill my
every automotive need. At each location it was pointed out that on-site computers were available to search for my desired new set of wheels. However, there was up to a
ten day delay in the listings, which meant the car I was looking for, if found on the computer, might have already been sold, or it could be a new arrival on the lot and
not yet listed. A personal inspection of the current stock was then decided upon.
About the only negative thing I could say was that my Sales Guides' first stop was at the Accessories Bar, where goodies
were pointed out that I could buy for my new "used" car such as custom wheels, car covers, seats covers, window tinting, sun roofs, security alarms and sound
systems. Best of all the price of these cool toys could be included in my car's final price. Wow, for the first time ever I could finance my little pine-tree air
Convenience for the customer must be the first thing that AutoNationís Sales Guides are taught, because before we hit the
lot I was given the choice to view my selected range of cars either on foot or chauffeured about in one of several golf carts. I choose the "by-foot" method.
While my dream car wasnít found on these lots, a selection of similar models was there, with each and every car clearly
marked as to what and how much it was.
What we found interesting is that at an "Honest Johnís" facility, the "asking" price always seems to
end with a "95". You know the routine, $10,995, or "just under $11,000!" Of course, that leaves room for negotiation when it comes time to close the
At AutoNation USA prices ended with figures like "54", "91", or even "82", such as $9,782.
However, these were "firm" asking prices. These figures are based on each individual car using its age, equipment, and mileage. Like the price stickers required
on new cars, AutoNationís placards list important information such as year, make, model, color, outstanding features, and the price. Clearly stated on each form is that
there is a "no haggling" policy at AutoNation, and the Sales Guides we spoke with concurred with that message.
"What the company prints on the form" said one courteous Sales Guide, "is what we have to charge, no
back-room Ďlet me talk with my manager deals are allowed here."
AutoNationís cars do have different pricing structures though. If a car has been in stock for more than 30 days, it may
be classed a "Super Saver", given a discounted price as a last chance to be sold before being taken off to the auctions. For real bargain hunters there are the
"Special Value" cars, those usually more than seven years of age, and with close to 100,000 miles on the odometer.
Another thing that sets AutoNationís sales department apart from others is their lack of high-pressure tactics to close a
sale. The staff was there to answer questions, allow the prospect to fondle, start, rev, and even test drive the used car. Not once did any of the Sales Guides we dealt
with even try to shove a pen in my hand, and ask for my autograph on a sales contract.
I was told that the sales staff is paid a salary plus a modest commission. As one Sales Guide told me, the salary alone was
good enough where he didnít have to pressure the customers into buying, that the cars did that by themselves.
How did prices compare with relationship to the rest of the market? Looking at Used Cars' latest comparative values, AutoNationís seemed a little on the high
side. This is consistent with what other studies have reported. In fact, if you can find a comparable car, it is relatively easy to find a better deal at other local
dealerships. AutoNation is in this business to make money, and each dealership is responsible to produce. It is unlikely that you'll find any great bargains here.
However, one has to take into consideration that they do offer a 134-point safety and performance inspection of each
vehicle, plus a 99-day, 3,300 mile limited warranty folded into the purchase price. ("Special Value" cars also have a 99-day/3,300 mile limited warranty, but
some areas are limited in coverage. For a modest optional charge, four different extended protection warranty plans are available.)
Another plus for doing business at a facility like AutoNation is that at each location is an on-site repair facility with
all the modern-day expectations, such as courtesy vans, and a car rental company on site.
From what I saw, the cars offered were very presentable. Unfortunately, AutoNation either didnít have, or didnít release accident or service information. However, as
one Sales Guide I spoke with pointed out, with the extensive computer technologies at new-car dealerships today, most of these cars could be fully checked out by their
VIN, (vehicle identification number), for service and repair histories. Also, companies such as Carfax (available on this website) can fax or email you a detailed vehicle
history with registration and insurance claim information. I would recommend that if you do purchase a previously owned car from AutoNation, that the history be checked
as soon as possible, and if something is found that may upset your apple cart, this progressive company does offer a three-day/150-mile "no questions asked"
Here to Stay
As much as some people enjoy shopping, buying a dependable and trustworthy used car, even from a dealership with the same qualifications, is a chore most of us dread.
However, Mr. Huizenga and company didnít make its mark on the business world by trying to rip-off their customers. With the professionalism we found at the AutoNation
locations we visited, they don't seem the type to start any "shady" or "fly-by-night" operations here either. As reported in the pages of the Fall
1998 issue of Used Cars, Republic and AutoNation are testing the waters in other areas too, such as an exclusive truck and SUV campaigns.
Although much of Republic's, and AutoNation's, growth has been fueled through a roaring stock market - most dealerships it
aquires are purchased largely with its stock - most analysts believe there is a future to the AutoNation model. It may not be the dominating model that many thought it
would be, but there's no lack of ideas at Republic, and you can be sure that you'll be hearing more from them. - end -
Note: this article originally appeared in the Spring 99 issue of Used Cars. In December of 1999, AutoNation
announced it's intention of shutting down it's used car superstore operations to
concentrate on acquiring traditional new car franchises. Other superstore chains, such as CarMax insist they can make the concept work and are
in the game fot the long haul.
by Phil Skinner