Profiles in GREED:
Multi-billion $$ mega-dealers AutoNation, Penske, and Group One Grab
At least $144 million from Paycheck Protection Plan
Trump Administration Aided Giant Corporations in Exploiting Loophole
AutoNation, the nation’s largest retailer of new vehicles, boasts that it’s a “Fortune 500” company with 26,000 employees and stores in over 300 locations in 18 states. In 2019, AutoNation raked in over $21 billion in revenue.
The corporate behemoth is also publicly traded on Wall Street. According to Barrons, “Bill Gates remains AutoNation’s largest shareholder. Through shares held by the [Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation] trust and 18.4 million AutoNation shares that Cascade owns, the co-founder of Microsoft (MSFT) still has total ownership of 19.3 AutoNation shares, a 21.6% stake.”
Penske Automotive, another giant auto dealership chain publicly traded on Wall Street, hauled in over $22.8 billion last year.
Group One Auto’s annual revenue was $12 billion.
So how did AutoNation, Penske, and Group One grab at least $144 million from the U.S. Treasury’s Paycheck Protection Program (PPP), while struggling businesses like restaurants, beauty parlors, nail salons, print shops, booksellers, self-employed people, and other small businesses tried in vain to access relief that was supposedly going to help them keep the wolves from their doors?
The PPP was supposed to be limited to businesses with fewer than 500 employees. But AutoNation, Penske, and Group One exploited a loophole provided by the Trump Administration’s Small Business Administration for mega-businesses with franchises in multiple locations, allowing them to each file for relief separately, even when they are all owned by the same conglomerate.
The National Automobile Dealers Association (NADA) tutored its mega-dealer members on how to exploit the loophole, instructing them how to get around the 500-employee limit. The key to evading that limit was for the auto manufacturers to get a “franchise identifier code” from the Small Business Administration, so their dealerships could all masquerade as “small businesses” even when in reality they are enormous.
The NADA also engaged in various machinations to make sure all their dealer members, regardless their size, could apply for the taxpayer funds. The NADA brags that when the CARS Act was first passed, only about 25% of the U.S. auto manufacturers had obtained the coveted codes from the Small Business Administration. However, “in response to strong urging from NADA, all [the auto manufacturers] without codes quickly applied for them. And again in response to NADA’s advocacy, the SBA has now granted all of those applications.”
Basically, the NADA is trumpeting the fact that huge auto dealership chains exerted their influence with the Trump Administration, to get the SBA to expedite providing those handy “franchise identifier codes” in time to scarf up at least $144 million of taxpayer dollars before day care centers, ice cream parlors, pet sitting services, bakeries, or other mom and pop stores desperate for cash even had a chance.
The NADA’s tips are posted on their website, showing dealers how to game the system.
In fact, AutoNation may have snatched even more. According to the Washington Post, “Documents show the company may have received even more money, a total of $95 million, spread across dozens of locations, an amount that would be more than triple the amount any company is known to have received through the fund.” The article notes that “AutoNation disputes the $95 million figure.”
While AutoNation claims it has returned $77 million in taxpayer funds it scooped up from the PPP, without an independent audit of the program, they can hardly be believed. For weeks, while other corporations like Shake Shak and Ruth’s Christ SteakHouse, facing a firestorm of protests, surrendered their ill-gotten millions. Meanwhile, ignoring the plight of small businesses and laid-off workers, AutoNation callously clung to the vast sums they seized from taxpayers — until they were contacted by reporters from the Washington Post.
This is not the only way AutoNation is exploiting loopholes provided to auto dealers by the Trump Administration.
AutoNation is also jeopardizing public safety by deliberately selling its customers hazardous vehicles without repairing deadly safety recall defects first.
When Trump was elected, AutoNation’s CEO Mike Jackson announced AutoNation was reversing its policy of guaranteeing a recall-free car, and commenced selling dangerous deathtrap vehicles — including vehicles AutoNation knows cannot be repaired for prolonged periods, due to severe shortages of replacement parts.
Last fall, researchers for USPIRG Education Fund, the Consumers for Auto Reliability and Safety Foundation, and Frontier Group found that more than 1 in every 9 vehicles AutoNation offered for sale at 28 dealerships in 12 states, among 2,400 vehicles surveyed, had at least one unrepaired safety recall. Typical defects: catching on fire, faulty brakes, loss of steering, sticking accelerator pedals, and explosive Takata airbags that are ticking time bombs that spew shrapnel into drivers’ and passengers’ faces and necks, causing serious injuries including blindness and bleeding to death.
Washington Post: “AutoNation, a Fortune 500 company worth billions, says it received nearly $80 million in SBA funds”
Automotive News: AutoNation retreats on used car recall policy
Unsafe Used Cars for Sale: Unrepaired recalled vehicles for sale at AutoNation dealerships