After 71 years as a family business, Fuller Motors of Chula Vista is now owned by a public company — continuing a trend that is steadily making family-owned auto dealerships a minority in the marketplace.
The top three auto dealership groups in the nation are all public companies, according to Automotive News’ March issue. The Michigan-based trade publication ranked the groups by the number of dealerships owned.
In the No. 1 spot on Automotive News’ list is Penske Auto Group Inc., the group that purchased Fuller Ford, Fuller Honda, Fuller Kia and the Fuller Collision Center for an undisclosed price last month. There are now 23 family-owned dealerships in the county.
Penske, which is also Michigan-based, owns about 300 dealerships nationwide.
Florida-based AutoNation Inc.is ranked a close second, while Texas-based Group 1 Automotive Inc. is in third place.
The trend of public companies becoming invested in the brick-and-mortar auto dealership marketplace began quietly in the late 1990s and has picked up steam in recent years, according to published reports.
Between 2011 and 2014, the number of dealerships nationwide that owned more than 30 stores increased from 13 in 2011 to 19 three years later, according to the trade publication Wards Auto.
Perks for Smaller Dealerships
Deeper pockets are an obvious advantage that larger companies have over smaller ones, but there are some perks to being the business with less moving parts.
Ted Hoehn, general manager of family-owned Hoehn Motors in Carlsbad, said his team can make decisions quickly because the entire management is local and easily accessible.
However, a close-knit team can also make hard decisions even harder, said Ron Fornaca, whose family owns and operates the Frank Motors Group in National City. It’s much more difficult to cut hours or eliminate jobs when you know employees by name, not just numbers, Fornaca said.
In San Diego County, auto dealerships — whether privately or publicly owned — are vying for billions of dollars.
Car dealership sales, including service and parts sales, topped out at nearly $12 billion in San Diego County last year, according to the New Car Dealers Association of San Diego County.
New car sales accounted for more than $7 billion of that $12 billion, while used car sales topped out just shy of $2.5 billion, the association reported in its 2017 Economic Impact Report.