A Very Good Year?

SAN FRANCISCO While many counterparts are bracing for a tough year, John Bergstrom predicts a 17% sales increase for his 26 dealerships. And we haven't missed a forecast in 10 years. The winners are the ones who go out and make it happen, says the Wisconsin dealer who won the 2003 Time magazine Quality Dealer of the Year award at the National Automobile Dealers Association convention this year. Other

SAN FRANCISCO — While many counterparts are bracing for a tough year, John Bergstrom predicts a 17% sales increase for his 26 dealerships.

“And we haven't missed a forecast in 10 years. The winners are the ones who go out and make it happen,” says the Wisconsin dealer who won the 2003 Time magazine Quality Dealer of the Year award at the National Automobile Dealers Association convention this year.

Other top dealers aren't as optimistic about '03. But they're not dour either.

Herb Chambers, president of the Herb Chambers Companies (ranked 18th on the Ward's Megadealer 100) says, “We certainly wouldn't predict a downturn in sales, but we are looking for a 5% increase.”

Mike Maroone, president and COO-AutoNation Inc., is predicting a 3-5% decrease in sales but says, “Our goal is to take market share.”

AutoNation saw its new car sales decline 7.1% in 2002 but its 286 dealerships earned $373 million in net profits - a record-breaking year for the company.

California-based group dealer Fritz Hitchcock thinks the market will be flat. “It will be a very tough year,” he says. “The challenge is if the incentives are continued.”

Bert Boeckmann II of Galpin Ford in southern California, the world's top Ford dealership, expects to see only a “modest” increase in 2003.

His Ford sales in 2002 increased 9%. He joked at a J.D. Power & Associates conference that his Aston Martin franchise doubled its sales from November to December. “I took the franchise two months ago and sold one the first month and two the second month,” he says.

Saying he “hates to be a doom and gloom guy,” Bryan Deboer, Lithia Motors Inc.'s senior vice president of mergers and acquisitions, says his Oregon-based dealership group is bracing for a difficult year.

“We're fortunate that the auto makers have prevented declines in sales with the aggressive incentives,” he says.

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