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OC Auto Dealers Down Modestly, Carmaker Jobs Up

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Sales took a dip among Orange County auto dealers amid an industry landscape that continues to evolve locally.

Sales volume among the 29 largest auto dealers, as ranked in this week’s Business Journal list, generated a combined $4.3 billion in sales for the 12 months through June 30.

That’s down nearly 1% from the year-ago period, ending a seven-year streak of gains and mirroring, to a certain extent, the overall U.S. auto market’s slowdown in the first half of this year.

Fifteen of OC’s dealerships saw declines in their sales volume with No. 10 AutoNation Toyota Irvine sales off the most, down about 15% from the year-ago period. A spokesman for AutoNation could not be reached for comment.

That was followed by No. 3 Toyota of Orange, with sales down about 12.5% to $295.7 million, and No. 26 Tuttle-Click Tustin Inc., down about 12.1% to $68.6 million.

Other dealers managed gains during the period, with No. 7 Toyota of Huntington Beach notching the largest jump for the period with a 44.6% surge in sales to $175.1 million.

Part of the run up was driven by a leadership change at the dealer following the retirement of its former general manager and subsequent promotion of Brad Pringle, who started at parent Wilson Automotive Group’s Right Honda in Scottsdale.

“[Pringle’s] enthusiasm and leadership skills have energized the dealership and its staff and made a huge difference in sales and revenue,” said Wilson Automotive Executive Vice President Vikki Murphy.

“Wilson Automotive has a policy of ‘always promote from within’ and it has worked very well for us,” Murphy said. “Turnover in our industry is notoriously high, but not in our dealerships. This policy is one reason. When other businesses are recruiting employees to take over management positions, we already have long-term experienced employees who want to move up the ladder. And we find places to put them. We don’t hire managers; we grow them. The young man who is currently the general manager at Toyota Huntington Beach began washing cars on the lot of one of our Arizona dealerships when he was only 18. He’s worked his way up through the ranks, and now runs his own dealership.”

Manufacturing Movement

Meanwhile, the landscape among the manufacturers with North American headquarters here continues to see shifts as the headcount ticks upward. Orange County automakers had a combined workforce locally of 2,679 in September, up 1.3% from the year-ago period.

Karma Automotive LLC remains in the top spot this year with 800 workers here, flat from last year. The company in August celebrated the grand opening of its Newport Beach flagship.

Mitsubishi Motors North America Inc. relocated its headquarters from Cypress to Tennessee in August, falling off the list. The automaker last year held the No. 5 spot in the Business Journal’s ranking.

Additions to the list have brought with them diversity to Orange County’s automakers landscape.

No. 7 Rivian Automotive LLC, the Michigan-based company set to roll out its electric truck and sport utility vehicle in the U.S. late next year, has a large research and development hub in Irvine. The company last month pulled in a $350 million investment from Cox Automotive Inc., adding to the more than $1.5 billion already funneled into the company from Ford Motor Co. and Amazon earlier this year.

There’s also No. 8 Genesis Motor America LLC, which was broken off into its own division—now totaling 45 workers locally and considered separate from sibling badges Hyundai and Kia. The three comprise the Hyundai Motor Group.

Former Audi of America President Mark Del Rosso was earlier this month named CEO of Genesis, following the February promotion of Erwin Raphael to the COO position. The luxury badge is in the midst of building out its own dealership network.

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