Automotive

Bryan DeBoer had a big vision for Lithia, made it happen

Prior to becoming CEO of the company founded by his father, Sid, DeBoer had been Lithia’s COO and president, senior vice president of M&A/operations and general manager of a Honda dealership in Oregon.

Acquisitions have been a cornerstone for Lithia during DeBoer’s tenure as CEO, which began in 2012, and played a role in him being named an Automotive News All-Star in 2014, 2016 and 2019.

In 2012, Lithia’s dealership count was 87. It hasn’t stopped expanding.

By 2017, that count increased to 169 dealerships. Lithia surpassed the 200 mark last year, reaching 209.

Lithia ranked No. 3 on Automotive News‘ most recent list of the top 150 dealership groups based in the U.S., retailing 171,168 new vehicles in 2020. But DeBoer took it up a notch in April when Lithia acquired Michigan’s Suburban Collection and 34 of its dealerships in one of the largest-ever acquisitions for the company as well as one of the largest automotive retail transactions of the past decade. That acquisition vaulted Lithia past Penske Automotive Group to become the country’s second-largest dealership group going forward.

Just more than four months later, Lithia made another significant acquisition — and went out of the country for the first time — when it bought Canadian retailer Pfaff Automotive Partners.

“I think the biggest learning that we’ve learned all along is know what we know and know what we don’t know,” DeBoer said. “And make sure that you understand that David Fischer [of the Suburban Collection] and his team in Detroit know way more about the Detroit marketplace, the consumers, their associates and the competition than we will ever know. I think that’s even more so stated with Chris Pfaff and Carol [Deacon] and their teams in Canada.”

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Beyond those two acquisitions, Lithia this year entered a handful of Southeast states — Mississippi, Alabama and Georgia — further expanding the retailer’s reach in what it refers to as Region 6 and what DeBoer called the shallowest area for the company.

“It does help us be able to grow in that Region 6. … I believe it’s the most lucrative markets in the country — those seven, eight states in the Southeast — and it’s just something that we haven’t been a party to over the last 20, 30 years,” he said. “Now we’re getting a taste of that and really are enjoying what we’re seeing in those markets.”

Lithia said it has acquired stores — including a Harley-Davidson dealership, its first entry into motorcycle sales — representing about $6.5 billion in annualized revenue in 2021 as of Nov. 16. Lithia added about $3.5 billion in revenue from its 2020 acquisitions.

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