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Sonic (SAH) Revs Up Buyout Game, to Acquire RFJ Auto for $700M

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Sonic Automotive SAH is set to acquire one of the notable U.S. dealership groups— RFJ Auto Partners— in a deal worth $700 million. The acquisition, which is scheduled for closure in December, marks one of the biggest deals in auto retail history and seeks to catapult Sonic into the top-five biggest dealership groups (by revenues) in the United States. 

RFJ Auto's portfolio of 33 dealerships across seven states generated $2.8 billion in revenues in 2020. The company boasts an impressive brand portfolio including Honda, Ford, Chevrolet, Lexus, Toyota, Buick, Dodge, Chrysler, Mazda, Jeep, Alfa Romeo, RAM, GMC, Nissan, Maserati, and Hyundai.

The acquisition of RFJ Auto will add six new states (Idaho, Indiana, Missouri, Montana, New Mexico, and Washington) and five brands (Chrysler, Dodge, Jeep, Ram, and Mazda) to Sonic’s foothold and portfolio. Importantly, the deal is expected to add $3.2 billion to Sonic’s annual revenues. This marks a 30% rise in franchised dealership revenues above its prior target of achieving $25 billion in total sales by 2025. The transaction, which will be funded by a mix of cash and debt, is in sync with Sonic’s commitment to optimize its franchised dealership business, both through organic growth initiatives and strategic acquisitions. 

With the latest deal, Sonic seems to be back in full force to pursue acquisitions to enhance its brand portfolio and complement its overall growth strategy. In an interview with Automotive News in July, Sonic’s president Jeff Dyke stated:

“We've just never been in a position in years to buy franchised stores from a financial perspective, and now we've really shored up our balance sheet. We're in great shape from a liquidity perspective and have plenty of access to capital. There are a lot of stores for sale."

In July, Sonic—which currently sports a Zacks Rank #1 (Strong Buy)— bolstered its dealership network in Colorado with the purchase of Subaru and Volkswagen franchises. Per Automotive News, these two franchises were Sonic’s first acquisitions since November 2014. Early this month, the company further expanded its dealership footprint in Colorado with the acquisitions of Audi Glenwood Springs and Glenwood Springs Volkswagen. You can see the complete list of today’s Zacks #1 Rank stocks here.

The latest megadeal is creating a lot of buzz, especially when its peers are also expanding their brand portfolio with big acquisitions this year. Last week, Group 1 Automotive GPI announced that it inked a deal (expected to close in November) to buy Prime Automotive Group assets for about $880 million. Lithia Motors LAD, which is constantly on a buyout binge, announced the acquisition of Troy-based Suburban Collection in April, representing one of the biggest acquisitions by the auto retailer. In fact, the spree of acquisitions has brought Lithia's total expected annualized revenues acquired in 2021 to $6.2 billion, keeping it well ahead of the schedule laid out in the five-year plan rolled out in July 2020. A few months back, AutoNation AN made its first franchised dealership acquisition since 2018 with the purchase of 11 stores and a collision center from Peacock Automotive Group.


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