Group 1 profit leaps to Q1 record as market rebounds

Despite a storm in the U.S. and mandated pandemic-related shutdowns in the U.K., Group 1 Automotive Inc. was able to boost sales and report record profit for the first quarter.

The dealership group reported Thursday that net profit more than tripled to a record $101.9 million in the quarter as revenue rose 12 percent to a record $3.01 billion, driven by new- and used-vehicle revenue growth of more than 20 percent in the U.S. The first quarter presented the first comparison with a year-earlier period affected by the coronavirus pandemic.

In March in the U.S., customers returned to Group 1’s dealerships “in droves,” Daryl Kenningham, Group 1’s president of U.S. and Brazil operations, said in a statement.

Customer lead traffic rose 43 percent year over year in March, service appointments increased 25 percent and customer-pay repair order count jumped 23 percent, Kenningham said. It’s a stark change from March 2020, when traffic dried up early in the pandemic.

“This increase in service business was dramatically higher than January and February and bodes well for a very strong spring and summer in our workshops,” Kenningham said.

“I am especially pleased with these record first quarter results given significant business interruption in both our U.S. and U.K. markets during the quarter,” CEO Earl Hesterberg said in Thursday’s statement. “We lost a week of business in most of our Texas and Oklahoma operations due to the well-publicized February winter storm.”

That was in addition to U.K. showrooms being shuttered for the entire quarter because of government-mandated lockdowns, he said.

“Clearly these factors reduced our sales and service volume to some degree, which makes our outstanding financial performance even more remarkable,” Hesterberg said.

Group 1 shares were trading down 1.4 percent to $166.71 in midday trading Thursday.

Records: First-quarter revenue, net income, adjusted net income, net income per diluted share, adjusted net income per diluted share

Sales: New-vehicle sales rose 4.3 percent to 36,863 vehicles across the group’s dealerships in the U.S., U.K. and Brazil. Retail used-vehicle sales increased 3.4 percent to 38,059.

In the U.S. alone, new-vehicle sales grew 19 percent to 29,152, while retail used-vehicle sales rose 10 percent to 30,431.

Same-store sales: U.S. new-vehicle sales climbed 20 percent to 29,148 in the first quarter. That was better than the industry. U.S. new light-vehicle sales in the first quarter increased 12 percent, according to the Automotive News Research & Data Center.

Group 1’s same-store retail used-vehicle sales rose 12 percent to 30,425.

Group 1 ranks No. 4 on Automotive News‘ list of the top 150 dealership groups based in the U.S., with retail sales of 140,221 new vehicles in 2020.

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