Serra-Maroone partnership 'great for our employees and customers'

CARY, N.C. - 

In a news release earlier this week, The Presidio Group discussed a few details surrounding the sale of four Serra Automotive, Inc. dealerships to former AutoNation executive Mike Maroone, a deal in which it advised Serra Automotive.

As part of the transaction, which was completed Monday, Serra Automotive will keep a minority interest in these Colorado Springs, Colo., stores, which will now be known as Mike Maroone Chevrolet South, Mike Maroone Chevrolet North, Mike Maroone Volkswagen and Mike Maroone Honda.

Terms of the deal were not shared.

Maroone was AutoNation's president and chief operating officer from 1997 to 2015.  He is president of Maroone Enterprises and a private capital dealer.

Al Serra, father of company president Joe Serra, bought Al Serra Chevrolet South — which, after this deal, is now Mike Maroone Chevrolet — in 1986.

Over the course of 1998 to 2003, he opened and bought Al Serra Chevrolet North (now Mike Maroone Chevrolet North), Front Range Honda (now Mike Maroone Honda) and Al Serra Volkswagen (now Mike Maroone Volkswagen).

“We have been very happy with the performance of these four stores over the years. The time came to do some portfolio management, and I was fortunate that my friend of many years, Mike Maroone, had interest in purchasing the majority stake in these terrific stores and allowing me to remain on as a minority partner. This partnership will be great for our employees and customers,” Joe Serra said in the news release.

“The Presidio Group was incredibly thoughtful, creative and professional throughout this entire transaction,” he added.

Maroone said in the release: “Serra Automotive is one of the very best auto retail groups, and these four dealerships have a great reputation in Colorado Springs. I look forward to partnering with Joe Serra to continue the success in this strong market.”

M&A advisory services were provided to Serra via Presidio Merchant Partners, the company’s investment bank.

“Presidio is pleased to have advised Serra Automotive in the creation of this partnership, which demonstrates the creative structures available to the best buyers and sellers in today’s marketplace,” Presidio founder and CEO Brodie Cobb said in the release. “It was an absolute honor and pleasure to work with two iconic dealers to put this transaction together.”

AutoNation background; moves this week

As far as Maroone's background,  on Jan. 15, 2015, a move that was set to take effect April 1 of that year.

Bill Berman became executive vice president and COO on Feb. 4, 2015, with chairman and CEO Mike Jackson adding the role as president.

Berman then became president and COO on Feb. 1, 2017.

Berman resigned from that position on Monday, but will continued to be employed by AutoNation in an advisory role through June 30.

 Jackson will take on operating responsibilities and the company will start a selection process for its new president and COO.

“I thank Bill for his 20 years of service and leadership at AutoNation. We wish Bill all the best in his future endeavors,” Jackson said in a news release on Monday.

5 favorite models of reviewers


Following an analysis of its online reviews, released its latest list of U.S. consumers' both most reviewed and most highly reviewed vehicles on Wednesday.

“Shopper reviews are a critical part of the car shopping process,” data analyst David Greene said in a news release. “Cars are one of the largest investments anyone makes, and the car you choose is going to be in your life for years. Shoppers want to know from trusted peers whether or not they’ve had a good experience with certain makes and models.

On's list of top five, the Honda brand takes the first, second and fourth spot for most reviewed car. 

Greene said, "The Honda Accord is a top-seller, and has been for years, so it’s no surprise that it is also one of the most-reviewed cars on" 

The following is a list of the top five most reviewed cars on

  1. Honda Accord
  2. Honda Civic
  3. Toyota Camry
  4. Honda CR-V
  5. Ford F-150

The iconic Chevrolet Corvette is the review site's highest rated car, followed by the Toyota 4Runner, the only SUV and economy model to take a top five spot on the list.

“It’s surprising to see the Toyota 4Runner get such high ratings as the only sport-utility vehicle among a top five list of sports and luxury cars,” Greene said. “The 4Runner is one of the last SUVs built on a truck frame, while most competitors have moved to building car-like crossovers.”

The following is a list of the top five highest-rated cars by reviewers:

  1. Chevrolet Corvette
  2. Toyota 4Runner
  3. Ford Mustang
  4. Porsche 911
  5. Mercedes-Benz S-Class

Additionally, the site's data analysts also identified where U.S. consumers are leaving the most dealership reviews.

“We looked at the data to determine where in the U.S. consumers are most inclined to review their experience at a dealership and found that, by a wide margin, Florida shoppers leave the most dealership reviews,” Greene explained. “Runner-ups include Texas, Nevada and California, where shoppers were all highly inclined to review their experience at a dealership.”

Here is a list of the five states with the most dealer reviews on the review site and respective review totals:

  1. Florida – 365,000 dealer reviews
  2. Texas – 255,000 dealer reviews
  3. Nevada – 249,000 dealer reviews
  4. California – 247,000 dealer reviews
  5. New Jersey – 226,000 dealer reviews

LotLinx builds 2nd remarketing solution for Facebook product suite


LotLinx has expanded its Facebook product suite to include LotLinx VS - Lead Enabled Remarketing, a newly created VIN-specific tool for Facebook users that leverages LotLinx proprietary technology to target high-quality shoppers.

The company’s new product can allow dealers to both strategically target visitors to Vehicle Details Pages and remarket to shoppers interested in a specific VIN on Facebook or Instagram. 

“This is a powerful extension of our VIN-specific demand generation platform. Every dealer knows that a car needs to be shopped in order to sell, and now dealers can produce high-value leads on the inventory they need to move,” LotLinx chief executive officer, Len Short said in a news release.

The LotLinx VS- Facebook solution is designed specifically for new cars and it focuses on car shoppers who are nearing a purchase decision.

According to LotLinx, the new product has already had an impact on dealerships such as Nimnicht Chevrolet of Jacksonville, Fla.

“We used LotLinx to identify visitors to our site who indicated interest in the cars we needed to move. Then, when they saw those VINs later on Facebook or Instagram, they were presented a pre-populated lead form. With one click, that information went into our CRM,” Nimnicht Chevrolet corporate business development director Frank Reynolds said. “We’re very pleased with the results — our BDC reps are busy!”

Additionally, on Memorial Day weekend, LotLinx announced that it will be its offering dealers a money back guarantee in an effort to showcase the company’s retargeting technology. For more details .

Asbury invests 'every day' in tech, digital capabilities

DULUTH, Ga.  - 

The dealership group may not discuss it publicly very often or show its hand. But don’t be mistaken.

Asbury Automotive Group is working on — and investing in — its digital capabilities.

“We all agree this industry is changing, and it’s changing very rapidly. And so are we. We are not very public about what we are doing to change our business, but I assure you that we are making investments every day in technology and the Web and our digital capabilities,” Asbury chief executive officer Craig Monaghan said in the retailer’s latest quarterly earnings call.

“And those investments are baked in our SG&A. So, rather than a big one-off, it’s just something that we’re doing quarter to quarter. The investments are all about improving the customer experience and expediting the sales process,” Monaghan said. “We actually believe that many of the new entrants that are coming to our space are, they’re actually doing the right thing. We admire some of the moves that they’re making, but I would also say that many of the things that you see them doing (are) happening in our stores already.”

In fact, Asbury has had a 25-person in-house digital marketing team for close to two years, Monaghan said.  He credits this team a great deal for helping to lift internally generated Internet leads by 37 percent in 2016.  

Digital accounts for three-quarters of Asbury’s ad spend, he said. 

What’s more, Asbury had 130-percent more website visitors in Q1 than it did a year ago, Monaghan said, and 5 percent of unit sales for the quarter started in the “PUSHSTART” online sales tool.

“And I’d encourage you to go to one of our websites in all of our stores, look at a particular vehicle and click on the button that says ‘buy online.’ And it will take you to our PUSHSTART tool and you will see an online sales process that in many ways is very similar to what you see Carvana doing,” he said.

It doesn’t offer the entire transaction process online, given that many states still need ink signatures, “but it is a huge step in the right direction,” Monaghan said.

While online sales are growing rapidly, it’s not just cars;  Monaghan said close to a quarter of Asbury’s parts and service visits are set up online.

“We’re all about ROI. Sometimes that means we buy stores; sometimes that means we buy stock. But the first place we spend money is always in the stores and on technology that we think we need to have in place to grow our business in the future,” he said.

Monaghan added: “We think there’s an opportunity to blend this digital world with the traditional brick-and-mortar world, and those are the things that we’re working on.” 

7 features of DealersLink's revamped booking tool

Broomfield, Colo. - 

DealersLink has released FastBook Pro 5.0, the company's new booking tool that can allow dealers to scan vehicles’ VINs and book out NADA, KBB, MMR, Black Book, CARFAX and AutoCheck simultaneously.

“FastBook Pro 5.0 has the fastest VIN scanner on the market today,” DealersLink chief executive officer Mike Goicoechea said in a news release. “It will help take the risk out of live auction bidding. As dealers consider inventory and decide whether or not to bid, they can use the app to instantly compare multiple book values on the fly. It’s fast, accurate and ensures they have all the information they need before placing a bid.”

The booking tool’s new features include the following:

  • Swipe navigation
  • Faster multi-threaded book retrievals
  • Improved superfast VIN scanner
  • Matrix of all book conditions
  • Vehicle grades, competitive pricing and velocity charts
  • Improved user interface design
  • Previous book-out launch list

FastBook Pro 5.0 is now available from the Google Play store and iTunes. For more information or to request a live demo, .

Search Optics introduces new dealer lead management solution


Search Optics has introduced the Virtual Business Development Center (VBDC), a turnkey solution for comprehensive automotive dealer lead management that is designed to improve response times, increase lead conversion rates and reduce the cost of sale for dealers, the company announced on Tuesday.

“As a digital marketing company with many years of specialization in the automotive market, Search Optics knows the challenges and pain points that dealers face,” Search Optics chief executive officer David Ponn said in a news release. “In developing the VBDC, we’ve applied our global knowledge and local focus to produce the most effective lead management approach available for dealers today.”

Over three months, Search Optics said it administered a pilot program to measure VBDC’s potential results.

VBDC proved to boost lead generation by facilitating high engagement with prospects through an accelerated communication cycle. The pilot program’s results showed an improvement of initial response times within 10 minutes, according to Search Optics.

“Dealers generally have limited resources to manage, respond to and capitalize on leads, which results in missed opportunities and lost revenue,” Ponn said. “By shortening lead response times and more effectively managing customer engagement, VBDC is proven to produce more appointments in the showroom, and ultimately, to reduce the cost of each sale.”

Through VBDC leads are responded to by a live person on a 24-hour clock within minutes and following the initial engagement, each prospect receives consistent follow-up, Search Optics said.

In addition to timely lead response times, VBDC’s key offerings include:

  • VBDC agents who are automotive-experienced and go through extensive training to ensure the highest levels of customer service
  • Personalized and OEM-compliant responses, the VBDC solution provides complete compliance with all OEM communication requirements such as the GM IMR and Cadillac Pinnacle programs

“VBDC is highlighted by experienced agents who use industry-leading practices and personalized processes to manage the entire lead development program in partnership with Search Optics’ auto dealer clients,” the company said.

For more details about the VBDC, visit the .

Millennials have less connection to first car than boomers


A new survey from CarGurus reveals that the first car buying experience of millennials starkly differs from that of previous generations.

Compared to millennials, baby boomers were not only found to have been more involved when selecting their first car, but were also far more likely to have contributed to the purchase cost, the online automotive shopping platform said.

While only 37 percent of millennials surveyed said they contributed to the cost of their first car, 65 percent of baby boomers told CarGurus they paid for some or all of their first car, according to the survey. And 53 percent of Gen Xers contributed to the cost of their first car.

“Our data shows a clear generational shift in the dynamics of first car purchase,” said Sarah Welch, senior vice president of consumer marketing, said in a news release. “Given the rise of autonomous vehicles, ride sharing and sweeping urbanization, it will be interesting to see if future generations show the same trend in parents controlling the first car purchase or if we’ll see a drop-off in dependents needing a car at a younger age.”

Twenty-three percent of millennials’ first cars were hand-me-downs, while only 10 percent of baby boomers were, according to the survey.

The survey also found that millennials were more likely to receive their first car from a family member, and were just as likely to not have a choice. Thirty-four percent of the millennials surveyed said they were given their first car for either school, a job or extracurricular activity.

Thirty-three percent of millennials did not have a say in their first car, as opposed to 24 percent of baby boomers.

Although the survey shows clear differences in first car buying experiences between generations, it presents a few similarities, as well.

The survey found that 83 percent of all first cars were either bought or given used and 55 percent of drivers got their first car between the ages of 16 and 18.

Additionally, the survey also asked participants to name their favorite car brands. Chevrolet is the only brand to top each generation’s list of favorite brands. The overall most popular brands amongst all the drivers surveyed are Ford, Chevrolet, Toyota, Honda and Dodge, respectively.

The following are lists of the top five brands for each generation.

Baby boomers: Most popular first-car brands

  1. Ford
  2. Chevrolet
  3. Volkswagen
  4. Plymouth
  5. Toyota

Generation X: Most popular first-car brands

  1. Ford
  2. Chevrolet
  3. Toyota
  4. Dodge
  5. Pontiac

Millennials: Most popular-first car brands

  1. Chevrolet
  2. Honda
  3. Toyota
  4. Ford
  5. Nissan

CarGurus said it conducted the online survey of more than 1,800 randomly selected participants last month. Survey participants included drivers who have owned a car, ranging from 18 years of age to 70.

AutoNation COO steps down


AutoNation president and chief operating officer Bill Berman has resigned, the company said in a news release Monday afternoon.

The resignation was effective Monday, but Berman will continued to be employed by AutoNation in an advisory role through June 30.

AutoNation chairman and chief executive officer Mike Jackson will take on operating responsibilities and the company will start a selection process for its new president and COO.

“I thank Bill for his 20 years of service and leadership at AutoNation. We wish Bill all the best in his future endeavors,” Jackson said in the news release.

Berman, who had been executive vice president and COO, became president and COO on Feb. 1.

In other news from the company, senior vice president Scott Arnold has been promoted to the role of executive vice president of customer care and brand extensions. That includes AutoNation Collision Centers, AutoNation USA Service Now, AutoNation Precision Parts and AutoNation Auto Gear.

Jackson said in the release: “Scott has been with AutoNation for over 15 years, and has served in many retail operation roles. He has been instrumental in developing our brand extensions, and under his leadership, we have seen solid growth in our Customer Care business, as well as growth in our Precision Parts initiative and our AutoNation branded collision centers.” 

Millennial car shoppers seek personality fit over other factors

CARY, N.C. - 

While quality and affordability are regarded as key decision factors when purchasing a car, America’s growing group of millennial consumers are most likely to consider brands that fit with their personal image instead, according to Cambridge Analytica, a data analytics and behavioral communications provider 

“Finding brands which fit their personal image was the largest growing factor amongst millennials when compared to older respondents,” Cambridge Analytica Data Scientist Tom Richardson said via email when AuSM asked about the study’s findings.

Fitting personal image was found to be the largest differentiating factor between the youngest consumers and older car buyers, he said.

Cambridge Analytica found this and several other trends following its study which examined American car buying habits across key demographics.

About a third of millennials surveyed said fitting personal image was “extremely important,” while only a quarter of all respondents said the same, according to the study.

Last summer, Cambridge Analytica asked 3,018 respondents to consider the following set of factors: fits with personal image, affordability, high quality, driven by celebrities, brand reputation, made in the USA and environmentally friendly.

“When dealing with younger customers we might advise dealers to use a sales pitch based on matching an individual’s style and perhaps offer small personifications/bonus extras with the cars,” Richardson explained.

According to the study, Audi is the most desired brand amongst the millennials surveyed and Lexus and Honda ranked the lowest, which suggests the two brands don’t align with a millennial’s personal image.

Car owners vs. non-owners

The study also found that car ownership status rather than age is the best predictor when identifying shoppers who rate environment as important.

While environmental impact was found to be generally less important than both affordability and quality, 10 percent of respondents without a vehicle said they consider environmental factors extremely important.

Those without a car also consider affordability to be extremely important more often than quality. The group is 10 percent less likely to rate quality as extremely important and about 6.5 percent more likely to rate affordability as extremely important, according to the study.

Similarly, respondents who already own a car told Cambridge Analytica they are mostly interested in vehicles that offer higher quality than what they currently own.

Men vs. Women

High quality and affordability were the most important factors for both men and women.

But while a majority of both genders agree that the two factors are extremely important when choosing a new car, about 10 percent more women than men believe affordability, in particular, is extremely important.

Additionally, men are almost two times more likely than women to select BMW as their most desired brand, according to the study.

Other luxury brands such as Mercedes and Lexus were also found to be favorite brands for men.

Women were found to desire Japanese economy brands like Honda and Toyota most, while they significantly favor the Jeep brand more than men. Meanwhile, 7.6 percent of the women surveyed chose the American brand as their favorite compared to just 4.5 percent of men.

Interestingly, Audi was equally as popular with both genders: 7.8 percent of men chose the brand and so did 7.8 percent of women, according to the study.

Cambridge Analytica’s study was conducted online in June 2016, “when most people began talking about 2017 car models,” Richardson added.

Sheehy Auto kicks off fundraiser for American Heart Association


Sheehy Auto Stores has launched its 20th annual Sheehy 8000 sales event, a three-week community-wide effort to raise funds for the American Heart Association, the group announced on Friday.

Throughout the rest of the month, each of Sheehy Auto's dealerships throughout Washington, D.C.; Richmond, Va.; and Baltimore will host a variety of initiatives in support of the fundraiser before it wraps up on July 5.

"This year is a milestone for us as we continue our mission to raise awareness and funds for a cause that is close to many of our hearts," Sheehy Auto president Vince Sheehy said in a news release.

"We are thankful for our customers, communities and team members who rally behind this effort, making each year's campaign more successful than the last."

Sheehy Auto said this year’s campaign includes healthy cooking demonstrations, blood pressure screenings and CPR training for employees and the community across all of its locations.

"The support of Sheehy Auto Stores has allowed us to make a considerable impact on the health of our communities in the region," American Heart Association vice president of marketing Michelle Nostheide said. "We appreciate the generosity of their team members, customers and vendors, and their efforts towards workplace wellness. Together, we can lessen the burden and loss heart disease and stroke cause for so many families." 

Last year's Sheehy 7000 campaign raised $225,000 for the American Heart Association, according to Sheehy.

Additionally, the dealer group said it has been a several year sponsor of the charity’s National Walking Day, which was held last month at Springfield Town Center in Virginia. Each of Sheehy's dealerships also hosted individual step challenges among employees on the day of the walk.

Sheehy Auto said it has raised a total of more than $40 million for community and non-profit organizations since it was founded in 1966.