The new car buying experience in Tucson is about to undergo a significant change. The Salt Lake City-based Larry H. Miller Dealership Group has acquired four dealerships formerly owned by Avondale Auto Group.
The dealerships are: Tucson Dodge-Ram, 4220 E. 22nd St.; Tucson Chrysler Jeep, 7800 E. 22nd St.; Tucson Volkswagen, 900 W. Auto Mall Drive; and Tucson Fiat, 1000 W. Wetmore Road.
Officials with the Miller Group said they weren’t ready to talk about their plans or the acquisition, which closed on March 14. Some top-ranking management at the dealerships have already been changed.
The most outwardly visible change likely to occur, say competitors, is that under the new ownership the dealerships will be open on Sundays. In fact, a representative of the Miller Group, who was not authorized to speak about the acquisition, was surprised when told that members of the Tucson New Car Dealers Association close voluntarily on Sundays.
That had been the case at all Tucson new car dealerships for years until AutoNation, owner of Dobbs Honda, 810 W. Wetmore Road, and BMW Tucson, 855 W. Wetmore Road, quietly broke the tradition four years ago. AutoNation, however, remains a member of the Tucson New Car Dealers Association, according to this year's president of the group, Oscar Campos, president of Thoroughbred Nissan.
Whether more dealerships will break the tradition with the new competition from the Miller group is yet to be determined and people at other dealerships said they had not discussed it yet. Three of the four dealerships being acquired sell brands competitive with other dealers in the Tucson market. Jim Click also operates Dodge Ram and Chrysler Jeep dealerships and the Chapman Automotive Group has a Volkswagen dealer. The Fiat dealership is exclusive in the Tucson market.
The Larry H. Miller Automotive Group is big and tends to operate independently, say people at other Tucson-area dealerships familiar with their new competitor.
The auto industry trade publication WardsAuto ranks the Miller group as 11th largest megadealer in the U.S. with total 2012 revenues of $2.43 billion. The company sold 98,875 units that year, according to WardsAuto. AutoNation topped the list with $13.83 billion in total revenue, selling 508,769 units. The only other megadealer on the list with Tucson operations was Chandler-based Chapman Automotive, which ranked No. 25 with $1.05 billion in revenues and 36,557 units sold.
The largest individual dealership in Tucson is Jim Click Ford Lincoln, which WardsAuto ranked No. 210 on a separate list of the 500 largest dealers in the U.S., based on 2011 sales that included financing and parts and service. According to the ranking, the Click dealership sold 2,806 units in 2011 and had total revenue of $85.4 million. Holmes Tuttle Ford Lincoln was the next largest, at No. 280 selling 2,340 units with total revenue of $74.4 million. Other Tucson dealerships on the list were Chapman Honda, with total revenue of $62.3 million selling 2,341 units; Mercedes-Benz of Tucson, $55.5 million in revenue selling 998 units; and Jim Click Nissan with revenue of $48.4 million and 1,808 units sold.
The Larry H. Miller Dealership Group was started by its late namesake, who after selling auto parts partnered with an uncle in 1979 to open a Toyota dealership in suburban Salt Lake City where Miller grew up, according to the company’s website.
From that dealership the company has grown to 56 dealerships selling 40 brands of cars in nine metropolitan areas: Salt Lake City; Denver and Colorado Springs; Albuquerque; Portland, Ore.; Spokane, Wash.; Boise, Idaho; Phoenix and now Tucson. The one brand that is new to the company with the Tucson acquisitions is Fiat.
In the Phoenix area, the company has operated a Toyota dealership since 1980 and also has dealerships for Dodge, Hyundai, Nissan and Volkswagen.
The dealership group is one of two main profit-making divisions of the Larry H. Miller Group of companies. The other is the Larry H. Miller Sports & Entertainment division, which owns properties including the NBA Utah Jazz, the Triple-A Salt Lake Bees baseball team, entertainment venues, retail sports apparel stores, movie theaters and a TV and radio station in Salt Lake City.
All totaled, according to the company’s website, it owns more than 80 businesses and properties doing business in 41 states. In addition to the primary businesses, the company operates support businesses including a real estate division, financing division and an advertising agency.
The company also operates a nonprofit foundation, Larry H. Miller Charities.
Miller died in February 2009 at the age of 64 from complications of diabetes, but the company is still run by his family. His wife, Karen Miller, is now the CEO. The couple had five children.
The Avondale Auto Group had been in Tucson since 2005 when it acquired the former Bill Breck Dodge and two years later acquired Steve Christy Chrysler Jeep, both of which had been locally owned. The Fiat and Volkswagen dealerships are new and were opened last summer.
This story was edited on March 24, 2013, to correct a reference that AutoNation is a member of the Tucson New Car Dealers Association.