Just like that four-cylinder engine in a 2017 model is probably much more efficient and robust than the same level power plant in a vehicle 10 years older, Asbury Automotive Group is anticipating an ongoing software upgrade will rev up its used-vehicle department to a much higher performance than what the dealer group experienced to close the fourth quarter.
Acknowledging the software changeover had an noticeable impact, Asbury reported that its Q4 same-store used-vehicle retail revenue decreased 6 percent year-over-year while gross margin dropped by 10 percent on the same time comparison.
In terms of units, Asbury retailed 17,822 used vehicles during the fourth quarter, a drop-off of 2,059 vehicles or 10 percent year-over-year.
For the year, Asbury retailed 76,929 used vehicles, down 3 percent or 2,330 units compared to the 2016 total. The dealer group’s average gross profit per used unit retailed dipped 5 percent or $79 in 2017 to $1,574.
While those might be some negative figures, Asbury leadership is hopeful a dramatic software upgrade — expected to be completed by the close of the second quarter of this year — will provide the lift the company needs to enjoy record used-vehicle performance.
Asbury senior vice president of operations John Hartman told investment analysts during a February conference call, “While the new software will benefit us in the long-term, the implementation led to business disruption, putting pressure on our used sales.”
Later in the call, Hartman elaborated about some of the software’s capabilities.
“The biggest difference is we track market-day supply on used,” Hartman said. “Now if we look at a vehicle, if it has a low market-day supply, we know that vehicle will turn quicker and we can price it appropriately versus a vehicle that has a high market day supply and there's abundance of them in the market. We need to price that more aggressively to move it quicker. So the data is much more fine-tuned.”
Asbury president and chief executive officer David Hult immediately chimed in saying, “The other significant increase I’ll add to that, from appraising the vehicle, it’s more real time data, meaning today and this week what’s happening and the old software was really a 90-day look back.”
While Hult didn’t specify exactly how old Asbury’s software, it might be fair to assess that the platform might have been limited like that four-cylinder engine only pushing out a little more than 100 horsepower.
“We’re not a huge a company, but anytime you change something across the enterprise, it’s painful, so you put it off for long periods of time,” Hult said.
“The software we had was serviceable, but the data that it gave us wasn’t as timely as what the new software gives us,” he continued. “The new software is far more complex and more data-driven than the old, so we’re confident once we get comfortable with it, we’ll really be able to increase our turn, which is what we’re focused on. We want to turn the inventory faster and naturally grow our volume through trades.”
In other parts of its financial statement, Asbury reported its Q4 net income came in at $42.5 million or $2.03 per diluted share, down compared to $67.1 million or $3.08 per diluted share in the prior-year quarter.
The company explained its net income for the fourth quarter was adjusted for a $5.1 million pre-tax loss for franchise rights impairments ($0.15 per diluted share) and a $7.9 million benefit ($0.37 per diluted share) related to adjustments to deferred tax balances as a result of recent changes to the tax law.
As a result of recent changes to the tax law, Asbury is expecting its effective tax rate to be between 25 percent and 26 percent in 2018, which is down from its prior guidance of approximately 38 percent.
Finance office update
Asbury’s F&I performance was a bright spot during the fourth quarter. The dealer group posted a year-over-year lift of 10 percent or $153 in F&I gross profit per unit, landing at $1,652.
And by and large, Hult indicated that Asbury has the access to get its customers financed.
“I haven’t seen a big shift in the credit at all, as far as in the subprime market, which is a small percent of our business. The stipulations are getting a little bit tighter, but credit availability hasn’t been an issue in all the tranches,” he said.