Chief Automotive Group, a Southern dealership group formed less than two years ago, doubled its dealership count last month with the acquisition of Bay Cars, currently a three-store complex consisting of Hyundai-Lincoln, Mitsubishi and Chrysler-Dodge-Jeep-Ram stores in Panama City, Fla.
The group bought the stores from Florida State Sen. George Gainer.
The deal closed on March 1, and terms were not disclosed, though Chief Automotive will retain the Bays Cars name, said Gary Dodson, the group’s president.
“We like the coast,” Dodson told Automotive News, referring to Bay Cars’ location in the Gulf Coast town in the Florida Panhandle. “The car business is really good along there.”
Chief Automotive, based in Franklin, Tenn., acquired its first store in July 2019 when it bought Barksdale Cadillac in Ridgeland, Miss., from Jim Barksdale and renamed it Cadillac of Jackson.
Last September, it bought Petro Chevrolet in Pascagoula, Miss., from Tony Petro and renamed it Coast Chevrolet and also bought Hallmark Hyundai in Hendersonville, Tenn., from Hallmark Automotive Group, Dodson said. He operates the group with business partners and industry veterans David Andrews and Gary McCarter, Dodson noted.
Dodson has been in the industry for 31 years, including 15 years with Asbury Automotive Group Inc., working as a general manager and later in a corporate role, he said.
Gainer bought Bay Cars in 1968, The News Herald reported. He sold it in 1972, but repurchased the dealership in 1998, according to newspaper.
“I’m 78 years old, there’s still a lot of good people there,” Gainer told The News Herald. “I wanted to make sure it remained in good hands and my people would take care of it, and [the new owners] seemed like the people that would do it.”
Dodson said Bay Cars has an overall footprint of about 20 acres on both sides of 15th Street.
Bay Cars suffered damage from Hurricane Michael in 2018 and Gainer hadn’t rebuilt some of the properties. Dodson said the Lincoln store had essentially been wiped out by the hurricane and as a result has temporarily been sharing space with the Hyundai store.
Chief Automotive has begun construction for a new Hyundai facility and is building a new, separate Lincoln store, Dodson said, which eventually will give the group four stores in Panama City.
Dodson acknowledged that there’s a lot of activity in the buy-sell space, especially in Florida.
“The big publics are out buying,” he said. “I think that our niche is not exactly what the publics are looking for. We’re OK with a little bit of a turnaround model, or like in this situation, there’s some construction projects that need to be started right away.”
Dodson said Chief Automotive is looking to further expand.
“If you kind of look at that pyramid from Nashville, Tenn., down South and kind of along the coast, that South Central area is our acquisition target area,” Dodson said.