This article explains dealership metrics and performance statistics–what they mean, how to evaluate them, and where a particular store stacks up. As always, performance measures are relative. We are relying upon averages provided by NADA as well as our experience working with auto dealers.1
A few key terms help frame our discussion:
Specifically, we are relying upon information from the average dealership profile for 2017 and 2018 from NADA.2
For the average dealership profile, our experience has been that this department comprises between 50% – 60% (58% for 2017-2018 per NADA) of total gross sales. The front-end gross margin on new vehicles can vary over time and is somewhat controlled by the manufacturer. Typically, dealerships track and measure front-end gross margin on a per unit basis and can evaluate the overall performance of that figure by comparing it to prior years. Most domestic, import, or luxury dealerships experience a lower front-end gross margin on new vehicles than on used vehicles. Conversely, most high-line dealerships experience a higher front-end gross margin on new vehicles than on used vehicles.
New vehicles generally have a higher average retail selling price, lower front-end gross margins, and sell fewer units than used vehicles. These factors result in new vehicles comprising approximately 25% of total overall gross profits for an average dealership.
For the average dealership profile, our experience has been that this department comprises between 25% – 40% of total gross sales. These percentages can vary depending on franchise/dealership type and regional location. Like new vehicles, dealerships also track frontend gross profits on used vehicles on a per unit basis. Most domestic, import, or luxury dealerships experience a higher front-end gross margin on used vehicles than on new vehicles.
The sale of used vehicles should not be overlooked when assessing the value of a dealership. More often than not front-end gross margins on used vehicles will be higher than new vehicles. Additionally, the sale of both new and used vehicles put more cars in service and help drive profitability to fixed operations (to be discussed in next section). Based on our experience valuing new car dealerships, the range of used retail vehicles sold to new retail vehicles sold is 1.00 to 1.25. This figure can vary by dealership and can also be quite cyclical throughout the year. Further, our experience shows this ratio can climb to 1.5 to 1.6 when considering dealerships with successful wholesale used vehicle sales.
Used vehicles generally have a lower average retail selling price, higher front-end gross margins, and sell more units than new vehicles. These factors result in used vehicles comprising approximately 25% of total overall gross profits for an average dealership, or about even with the total overall gross profit contribution from new vehicles.
The long-term success of a dealership’s fixed operations is often tied to their effectiveness in selling new and used vehicles over time. These activities help to build brand in a market. Another critical factor in the success and level of profitability in the fixed operations is the auto industry cycle. In our last issue, we discussed the cyclicality of the industry not only in terms of certain months during the year, but also year-over-year.
Two such indicators of the auto industry life cycle are the SAAR and the average age of car. As shown on page 14 of the newsletter, the monthly SAAR began to level off in late 2018 and into the first few months of 2019 (despite a slight spike in March 2019) evidencing slower new light vehicle sales. Additionally, per our previous newsletter, the average age of cars in service was approximately ten years.
Both factors foreshadow that fixed operations of successful dealerships should experience an uptick in the short-term and mitigate the moderate/sluggish new vehicle sales. When customers hold onto their cars longer, they are less likely to spend money on a new or used vehicle, but their maintenance needs on their current vehicle will likely increase.
For the average dealership profile, our experience suggests that the service department comprises between 10% – 15% of total gross sales. However, this department is typically the most profitable in terms of a percentage of sales. The combination of much higher margins on lower sales results in the service department averaging 45% – 50% of total gross profits, or a much higher contribution level than new or used vehicles.
All dealerships are not created equally. This article is a general discussion on various dealership metrics and performance statistics. Each statistic is relative and not to be viewed in a vacuum. Hopefully, we have provided a better understanding of the various departments, including fixed vs. variable operations and their contribution to overall profitability and the eventual value of a store. A graphic display of historical profitability and other metrics are discussed later in the newsletter. For an understanding of how your dealership is performing along with an indication of what your store is worth, contact us. We are happy to discuss your needs in confidence.
1 The data and discussion are based generally on average dealership profiles and do not pertain specifically to domestic dealerships, import dealerships, ultra high-line dealerships, etc. Specific types of dealerships and their regional location could have different performance metrics and criteria.
2 It’s important to note that other national sources of Blue Sky multiple data (Haig Partners and Kerrigan Advisors) classify the categories of dealerships slightly different from NADA, so all comparisons and discussion should be done in general terms.
Originally published in the Value Focus: Auto Dealer Industry Newsletter, Year-End 2018.