Auto Dealer Valuation Insights

A weekly update on issues important to the Auto Dealer industry


Auto Dealer Valuation Insights

Special Topics

Headwinds and Tailwinds for Auto Dealers

Your Flight Itinerary for 2021

If you’ve ever been on a flight, you know that the pilot and plane itself can only do so much in determining how quickly you get to your destination. A key factor is which way the wind is blowing. If the pilot announces that there are headwinds, you can expect your flight time to be on the longer side. The opposite is true with tailwinds, and you can expect to arrive at your destination more quickly under these circumstances.

Similarly for auto dealers, sometimes it doesn’t matter what the dealership’s management is like or how good the dealership itself is, as certain headwinds and tailwinds can make it harder or easier to achieve its goals. In this post, we have considered some headwinds and tailwinds heading into 2021.


December 2020 SAAR

2021 Predictions for Auto Dealers

Heading into 2021, we’re going to make some SAAR predictions. Although they may or may not prove true in 2021, we believe this exercise is beneficial for auto dealers who should be looking forward to what the year might bring and prepare themselves should these trends materialize.

Blue Sky Valuation Issues

Valuation Considerations for Auto Dealership Entities with Multiple Franchises

The valuation of an auto dealership can be a challenging and complicated process.  The structure of most auto dealerships consists of an entity holding the actual dealership operations and a separate entity owning the real estate and building.  Often the latter is a related party entity that charges the dealership rent for use of the land and building.  Occasionally, the real estate and the dealership operations are contained in the same entity.

We are all used to the local dealership in our town: Bill Jones Honda, Steve Smith Chevrolet.  But what about the larger auto groups that have multiple franchises organized in the same entity?  How are they valued and what special valuation considerations apply to them?

Special Topics

2021 New Year’s Resolutions for Auto Dealers

At the start of a new year, many people, including myself, try to establish resolutions to get the year started off on the right foot.  This is especially prevalent this year with most people welcoming 2021 with open arms after the disaster of a year that was 2020.  When considering the auto industry in 2020 and predictions for 2021, making some “resolutions” for your dealership to prepare for the year ahead could prove to be helpful. With that being said, here are a few common “New Year’s Resolutions” that can be applied to your auto dealership.

Blue Sky COVID-19 Coverage Mergers, Acquisitions, & Divestitures

Weather Report for Auto Dealers

Q3 Climate for Blue Sky Multiples, Transaction Activity, and Other Trends

In the last few weeks, Haig Partners and Kerrigan Advisors have released their Third Quarter Blue Sky Reports and J.D. Power just released its U.S. Sales Satisfaction Index.  We find these reports to be timely and informative of not only where the auto dealer industry is today, but where it is headed.  Through observing all of these different sources, we can achieve a well-rounded understanding of the climate surrounding the auto dealership industry. In this post, we look at a few of the trends and key takeaways discussed in these reports.


November 2020 SAAR

SAAR Declined to 15.6 million, Primarily Driven by a Decline in the Number of Selling Days for the Month

After steady increases, SAAR (a measure of Light-Weight Vehicle Sales: Auto and Light Trucks) experienced its first notable decline since April, dropping to 15.6 million from 16.3 million in October. November 2020 is off of the same period in 2019 by 8.4%, and through 11 months of the year, new light-vehicle sales are down 16.7% compared to the same period last year. The calendar differences are important to note for this month with November 2020 only having 23 selling days relative to 26 days in November 2019.

Valuation Issues

Measuring Up: Evaluating Your Auto Dealership Against Benchmark Metrics

In a strange year of oddities, 2020 has all of us constantly evaluating life’s basic truths. Market conditions vary drastically across all industries and even geographically within the same industry due to local government restrictions.  It’s critical for auto dealers to continually analyze all aspects of their business and be ready to capitalize on industry trends.  We previously discussed the use of the NADA dealership profiles as a useful tool to examine timely monthly data based on averages or dealership type.  Three specific metrics in the data have reached their highest level since the data was originally published in 2012: new vehicle retail gross profit per unit, used vehicle retail gross profit per unit, and used-to-new vehicle unit ratio.

Valuation Issues

Valuation Assumptions Influence Auto Dealer Valuation Conclusions

How to Understand the Reasonableness of Individual Assumptions and Conclusions

There are several life events (large and small) that require an owner of an auto dealership to seek a business valuation.  Often the owner of the dealership and their advisors may only view a handful of business valuations during their careers.  It is not unusual for the valuation conclusions of appraisers to differ significantly, with one significantly lower or higher than the other.

What is an owner or their advisor to think when significantly different valuation conclusions are present?  The answer to the reasonableness of the conclusion lies in the reasonableness of the appraiser’s assumptions. However, valuation is more than “proving” that each and every assumption is reasonable.  Valuation also involves proving the overall reasonableness of an appraiser’s conclusion.


October 2020 SAAR

October lightweight vehicle sales had their second month in a row above 16 million, coming in at an annualized rate of 16.2 million for the month. Though this is down 0.6% from September SAAR of 16.3 units, it is still a positive sign for the industry that sales have shown notable improvement since the start of the pandemic.

COVID-19 Coverage Public Auto Dealers

Q3 2020 Earnings Calls

Low Supply and SG&A Reductions Lead to Record Earnings

As we do every quarter, we take a look at some of the earnings commentary from major players in the industry. These trends give insight into the market that may exist for a private dealership.

Mergers, Acquisitions, & Divestitures Special Topics Valuation Issues

GM and Nikola Partnership: What Went Wrong and Where Does it Stand?

A new trend has emerged as auto manufacturers are seeking out start-ups for their technology in a mutually beneficial relationship, perhaps best exemplified by GM and Nikola’s plan for a partnership. In this post, we look at the original deal, ensuing issues, and current plans. We will also look at what this trend could mean for dealerships going forward, and the importance of the valuation date.

Valuation Issues

Analyzing Sources of Peer Information for Auto Dealers 

Data Drill Down

In our quarterly newsletters, we use various data sources to keep tabs on the auto dealer industry. This includes items like SAAR to gauge the health and activity of the industry in terms of volumes. In this post, we discuss other metrics that help us analyze the dealerships we’re engaged to value.

Special Topics

How Each Presidential Candidate’s Policies Would Impact the Auto Industry

Tale of the Tape

With the election just two weeks away, we think it’s timely to discuss the candidates’ platforms and determine the impact of their differing policies.  Each candidate’s platform contains positions on many issues – some that would directly impact the automotive industry, and others that would indirectly impact the industry.  A vote for one doesn’t necessarily signal a vote for the automotive industry or vice versa.  While we don’t intend for this blog post to be political, we will examine each candidate’s position on four issues and discuss their impact on the automotive industry: trade policy, taxes, energy, and the environment.

COVID-19 Coverage SAAR

Last Quarter Took an L, but This Quarter We Bounce Back

SAAR Is Reaching a Post-Pandemic High, and Pent-Up Demand Is Leading to an Expected Bounce Back of M&A Activity

In September, lightweight vehicles marked a notable accomplishment during a tumultuous year, increasing to a seasonally adjusted 16.3 million. This is a 10% pickup from August, and the fifth consecutive monthly increase as the industry is recovering from lows at the beginning of the year. M&A activity for dealerships in the first half of the year has been delayed or cancelled as uncertainty has widened the bid-ask spread. However, there is evidence of pent-up demand which could lead the second half of the year to reach record levels.

COVID-19 Coverage Special Topics Valuation Issues

Take Advantage of Current Estate Planning Opportunities While You Can

While economic recovery is still uncertain as the pandemic continues on and new relief bills are on the ropes, there are other ways outside of the box for auto dealers to show resiliency during this time and plan for economic success going forward. This includes opportunities that exist in estate planning this fall for owners of assets in the auto dealer, and all, industries. Three converging factors have this fall shaping up to be the busiest estate planning season since 2012:  potentially depressed valuation of assets and businesses, historically low interest rates, and uncertainty regarding the political administration going forward. 

Blue Sky COVID-19 Coverage Mergers, Acquisitions, & Divestitures

Blue Sky Multiples Rebound from Q1 Declines but Full Recoveries Reserved for Top Brands

Blue Skies Ahead?

In this post, we review Haig’s Q2 report on trends in auto retail and their impact on dealership values. We’ll also look at how Blue Sky multiples have rebounded after declines in Q1. While most brands saw a partial recovery, a return to pre-COVID multiples was largely reserved for brands with the highest multiples in their category (luxury, mid-line import, and domestic).

COVID-19 Coverage SAAR

Used Cars are Stealing the Spotlight

Consumers Seek Budget Friendly Options as Economic Struggles Continue

With a shaky economy on many people’s minds, a winner in the auto dealer industry is emerging: the used car market. With new car advertisements flooding airwaves, used cars have often been overlooked in favor of “what’s new.” We are also at fault for this, with several of our recent blog posts being centered around electric vehicles and new vehicle inventory constraints. However, used cars are stealing the spotlight.

Litigation Special Topics

Does Personal Goodwill Apply to Auto Dealerships?

Observations from Recent Litigation Engagements

A common topic from several recent auto dealer litigation cases is personal goodwill.  Not only is its presence hotly debated, but practitioners further attempt to discern just how much of a business’ value is directly related to personal goodwill.  There’s no textbook that discusses where it exists and where it doesn’t, and it’s more prevalent in certain types of businesses or industries than others.  Before any attempts to measure and quantify it, I think the most important question to ask is “does it exist?”  Often with ambiguous concepts like personal goodwill, the adage “you know it when you see it” is most appropriate. 

Special Topics

Is the Hype Sustainable?

How EV Start-Ups Are Taking Advantage of SPACs to Enter the Public Market

As we mentioned in a previous blog post, the electric vehicle (EV) market has been all the rage lately, driven primarily by Tesla’s success in creating main stream electric vehicles. We’ve discussed the “Tesla Story” extensively in previous posts, and their stock has continued to rise. It was sitting around $2,200 last Friday, up from $216 last year, or an astounding 918%. Tesla split its stock 5-1 Monday and was hovering around $450 at the time of writing this post.

As expected, other companies want to capitalize on the hype that Tesla has created in the industry, with EV start-ups trying to capture a slice of the pie.  This summer has been a huge one for the industry, with electric vehicle startups Nikola, Fisker, Hyiilon, Lordstown, and Canoo all either going public or announcing plans to go public. Notably, however, they are not relying on the typical, lengthy IPO route to achieve this. Instead, they are using special purpose acquisition companies (or SPACs) to hit public markets quicker. In this post, we will walk through the companies going public, the deals, pros and cons of the SPAC, and what this could mean for your dealership.

COVID-19 Coverage Public Auto Dealers

Q2 2020 Earnings Calls

Constrained Inventories and Improved SG&A Margins Expected to Normalize While the Future of Omnichannel Initiatives Stays Top of Mind

As expected, the COVID-19 pandemic has thrust many dealerships into relying on their digital and omnichannel offerings due to complications arising from stay-at-home orders. Further government restrictions have curbed new vehicle supply as manufacturers have struggled to ramp up supply. Many dealers noted inventory shortages. However, with sales volumes significantly below the 17 million seen over the last several years, both the numerator and denominator of the days of supply statistic are declining.  Lower sales mean lower inventory isn’t a deal breaker; in the short term, limited supply has led to some gross margin improvement.  However, total gross profit is still significantly down due to the lower sales (combination of lower inventory and lower demand). While sales have improved sequentially as restrictions have eased, parts and service (particularly collision) have trailed in their recovery as fewer miles driven has translated into reduced demand. Analysts inquired about the potential for stay-at-home orders to be ramped back up, particularly in large states such as Texas, California, and New York, though executives largely downplayed the likelihood and the impact it would have on their businesses.


July 2020 SAAR

SAAR Increased to 14.5 Million in July, and Declines in Public Transportation and Ride-Sharing Usage Could be Creating Opportunities for Dealerships

SAAR continues to trail pre-COVID numbers with July 2020 14% below last year. Still, the continuing increase is encouraging. With demand picking up as customers can return to brick-and-mortar locations, dealerships aren’t feeling the need to offer as strong of incentives as they did at the start of the pandemic.

Valuation Issues

Whitepaper Release: Understand the Value of Your Auto Dealership

In this whitepaper, we break down the value drivers of a dealership, discuss when you might need a formal valuation, introduce the valuation methodologies used by professional business appraisers, and go into some depth about topics such as dealer financial statements and normalizing adjustments to the balance sheet and income statement.

Special Topics

Electric-Vehicle Industry Is Heating Up

Policy and Oil Price Implications for EV Sales

The current focus for new auto technologies is less focused on speed, and more on sustainability, as there appears to be a shift in focus away from developing the century-old gasoline-powered vehicle to electric. The electric-vehicle (EV) industry has shown to be an attractive long-term alternative for manufacturers. In this post, we’ll survey the landscape including the beginnings of EVs, major players in the industry, and the future outlook.

COVID-19 Coverage Mergers, Acquisitions, & Divestitures

Fiat Chrysler & Peugeot (PSA) Merge into “Stellantis”

Analyzing the Timeline and Twists and Turns of a Transatlantic Merger During a Pandemic 

Last week, we analyzed Asbury Automotive Group’s acquisition of Park Place, a deal scuttled by COVID-19 that came back to life under revised terms. This week, we are moving upstream to look at the merger between Fiat Chrysler (FCA) and Group PSA (manufacturer of Peugeot and Citroen) and observe the new name of the entity, the merits and hurdles of the ongoing deal, and some potential impacts on auto dealers.

Auto Dealerships

Mercer Capital provides business valuation and financial advisory services to companies throughout the nation in the auto dealer industry.