Armchair strategists are feeling vindicated now that AutoNation CEO Mike Jackson has abandoned his “asinine” plan to ground all vehicles under recall. I see the same argument whenever anyone tries to change dealer operations. They estimate the reduction in profits and write about that, as if that were the end of the argument. It’s not. That’s not how competition works.
If you talk about disclosing product prices online, you will hear that F&I gross is now $1,500 and who wants to screw that up? Same story with TrueCar and their diabolical plan to disclose transaction prices. You even hear this complaint about vAuto and the velocity method, which sounds to me like the most logical thing ever.
My back-of-envelope calculation says that AutoNation carrying an additional 10,000 units of inventory, at maybe 2%, would cost them roughly $5 million per year. That’s 0.02% of sales. For comparison, the related “Drive Safe” ad campaign was $10 million.
AutoNation, with investment-grade credit, enjoys a lower carrying cost than its private dealer competitors. Selling diverse brands, they are less exposed to a recall by any one manufacturer. They can also exploit their scale to mitigate the cost of such a policy, not to mention the PR benefits.
If federal regulators had followed Jackson’s lead, this would have raised the bar for all dealers. Two senators, now disappointed, were lined up to make that happen. Jackson’s policy, a minor challenge for AutoNation, might have proved fatal for smaller dealers. That’s how competition works.
It is a mistake to look at process change only in terms of the costs. Athletes training hard for a competition don’t think about how much it hurts. They think about how much it’s going to hurt the other guy.
Update: Motley Fool estimates the cost to AutoNation at $0.06 of EPS, a little higher than my estimate (and Jackson’s) due to the Takata debacle.