The CEO of the country’s largest auto dealership chain put on a Seattle Seahawks ballcap Friday morning. About 230 of his company employees shouted approval.
Mike Jackson, the chief executive of AutoNation Inc., came to Spokane Valley to celebrate the reopening of the chain’s Toyota-Scion dealership, at 8600 E. Sprague Ave.
Jackson received the hat as he greeted many of the workers who are employed at the 10 franchised AutoNation dealerships in the Spokane area. Jackson said those 10 AutoNation dealerships will see the company spending about $20 million for building upgrades over the next few years.
The Spokane investments are part of AutoNation’s $500 million nationwide investment in improved facilities and more customer-friendly buildings.
The upgraded, now twice-as-large AutoNation Toyota Spokane Valley dealership on East Sprague received about $10 million in improvements, he said.
The scope of upgrades result, in part, from two strong years for the auto industry in 2012 and 2013.
Based in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., AutoNation had a booming 2013, setting consecutive sales records each quarter, Jackson said. U.S. consumers bought 16 million vehicles in 2013, up 7 percent from 2012.
But 2014 will involve new challenges, he said, adding that he’s projecting a modest 3 percent sales bump this year.
At the recent Detroit auto show, Jackson was quoted saying dealers could see a price war to whittle overstocking of new vehicles.
Nevertheless, “We’re committed to Spokane,” he said. “Compared to our entire sales total, Spokane may count for about 1 percent – to us it’s a special market. It’s a good market and we have some fantastic associates working here.”
AutoNation acquired the former Appleway dealerships in Spokane in the late 1990s. Last year, as part of a nationwide rebranding, the Spokane Appleway stores officially became AutoNation-labeled operations.
The $10 million investment in the Toyota dealership added heated delivery and service areas, a larger new-car showroom and new service areas, said AutoNation’s Toyota general manager, Dustin Esco. The dealership now has 82 employees.
The Spokane market has generally been very strong for Toyota, added Kalei Dudoit, a Western regional president for AutoNation.
Spokane’s biggest sellers, for Toyota, are Rav4s, 4Runners, Tundras and Tacoma pickups.
“We have just a five-day supply of Tacomas,” Dudoit said. “If we had more, we could sell more Tacomas.”