Used cars were lifeblood of business in ’21

Several dealership groups made big jumps in the ranking as they bolstered their sales in 2021, with car buyers who couldn’t obtain new vehicles turning to used ones.

Swickard Automotive Group, of Gladstone, Ore., rose 37 spots to No. 48, the second–largest ascent up the list. The group retailed 17,403 used vehicles in 2021, up 74 percent from 2020.

Zeroing in on used vehicles provided a “big boost to the business” and ultimately punched up the group’s bottom line, said Greg Gates, Swickard’s vice president of business transformation.

As long as uncertainty over new-vehicle production and availability persists, dealers will likely keep the focus on selling and replenishing their critical used-vehicle inventory, Gates said. “We’re going to continue to focus on selling used cars and making sure our guests have something to drive if that’s what they come in needing,” he said.

LaFontaine Automotive Group had the third-largest jump up the list. The group based in Highland, Mich., rose 36 spots to No. 40. It retailed 19,573 used vehicles in 2021, up 75 percent from the previous year.

Selling used cars was always a key focus for LaFontaine, but the coronavirus pandemic and chip shortage made company leaders realize used-vehicle sales are the lifeblood of the dealership business, said Max Muncey, LaFontaine’s senior manager of corporate communications.

In previous years, LaFontaine carried $30 million to $35 million of used-vehicle inventory. Last year, the group increased that to well over $100 million, Muncey said.

LaFontaine ramped up its attempts to obtain used vehicles, and its buying center team was “extremely aggressive” in seeking inventory, Muncey said. That included scouring Facebook Marketplace and Craigslist, while some employees drove around looking down driveways for cars marked with “for sale” signs. LaFontaine implemented an instant pay option so consumers selling their cars to the group could get their money more quickly, Muncey said.

Obtaining vehicles from lease turn-ins also became very important, he added.

“We probably took for granted the volume that we sold [on the new-car side] and took for granted the volume of lease turn-ins that we normally were getting at our stores,” Muncey said.

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