Lithia burns rubber – in reverse

| Print |  Email
Wednesday, June 24, 2009
lithiaCEO Sid DeBoer
After racing into the top tier of the nation’s auto dealers and Oregon’s top public companies, Medford-based Lithia Motors has slammed it into reverse with rubber-burning decisiveness, selling off dealerships as ruthlessly as it once bought them to avoid driving off a cliff.

Lithia went public in 1996 and grew from five stores to more than 90 over one freewheeling decade. CEO Sid DeBoer had hoped to build the company into an $11 billion empire by 2011, but that was before his key suppliers, Chrysler and GM, fizzled into bankruptcy. Lithia struggled mightily in 2008, losing $252 million for the year.

But then a surprising thing happened in the first quarter of 2009: Lithia posted a profit. Its stock, which bottomed out at $2 per share in April, rebounded powerfully on news that Chrysler’s abrupt elimination of 789 underperforming stores would help rather than hurt Lithia. “We lost two stores, but we should be able to pick up nine additional franchises in five of our current locations,” says DeBoer.

Three Lithia stores are also at risk from the GM bankruptcy, but it could have been much worse. Lithia minimized its losses by deciding in the fourth quarter of 2007 to begin conserving cash and selling off unnecessary assets. The company sold 14 dealerships in 2008 and has lightened its debt load from $269 million to $45 million while slashing its workforce from about 6,000 to 4,300. “It was painful,” says DeBoer. “A lot of people lost their jobs and we lost some stores that we would like to have kept in good times.”

But it worked. According to DeBoer, sales in May exceeded Lithia’s projections. “All the stores we’ve sold or closed were losing money,” he says. “We will make more money without them.”

It won’t be a Sunday drive. Lithia still has 11 dealerships on the market as of press time, and gas prices are rising again. But DeBoer says he feels much better about Lithia’s position than he did a year ago, and he’s thankful he called for the radical shift in strategy sooner rather than later.

“Having lived in the car business since 1964,” he says, “I’ve learned that those who act the fastest get through these things in the best shape.”
BEN JACKLET
 

More Articles

Crowdfunding 2.0

News
Tuesday, December 02, 2014
120214-crowdfund-thumbBY LINDA BAKER

A conversation with attorney Erich Merrill about the latest way to raise money from large groups of people.


Read more...

The clean fuels opportunity

News
Monday, November 10, 2014
111014-dirtyfuel-thumbBY KIM MOORE | OB RESEARCH EDITOR

A market for low-carbon transportation fuels has a chance to flourish in Oregon if regulators adopt the second phase of the state’s Clean Fuels Program.


Read more...

See How They Run

January-Powerbook 2015
Friday, December 12, 2014
BY LINDA BAKER

Studying ground-running birds, a group that ranks among nature's speediest and most agile bipedal runners, to build a faster robot.


Read more...

Reimagining education to solve Oregon's student debt and underemployment problems

News
Thursday, November 13, 2014
carsonstudentdept-thumbBY RYAN CARSON | OP-ED CONTRIBUTOR

How do we skill up our future technology workforce in a smart way to take advantage of these high-paying jobs? The answer shouldn’t focus only on helping people get a bachelor’s degree.


Read more...

OB Poll: Wineries and groceries

News
Friday, October 24, 2014

24-winethumbA majority of respondents agreed: Local vineyards should remain Oregon-owned and quality is the most important factor when determining where to eat or buy groceries.


Read more...

Legislative Preview: A Shifting Balance

January-Powerbook 2015
Thursday, December 11, 2014
BY APRIL STREETER

Democratic gains pave the way for a revival of environment and labor bills as revenue reform languishes.


Read more...

Old school: Paulsen's Pharmacy maintains old fashion ethos

The Latest
Thursday, December 18, 2014
121914-pharmacy-thumbBY MEGHAN NOLT

VIDEO: Under the radar — complete with a soda counter, the traditional Paulsen's Pharmacy looks to compete with big box retailers.


Read more...
Oregon Business magazinetitle-sponsored-links-02
SPONSORED LINKS