Automotive retailing giant AutoNation Inc. has hired Mercedes-Benz U.S.A. President Michael J. Jackson as its new chief executive in a move intended to bolster the company's management as it tries to build a national brand and shift its emphasis from selling used cars to new ones.
Jackson, 50, will join Fort Lauderdale, Fla.-based AutoNation Oct. 11. He replaces Steven Berrard, AutoNation's co-founder, who resigned two months ago because, he said, investors were wary of a car retailing company run by an executive with no auto industry experience.
AutoNation Chairman H. Wayne Huizenga, the billionaire entrepreneur who founded the company three years ago, will relinquish the co-chief executive title he shared with Berrard.
A 28-year veteran of the auto industry, Jackson has a reputation as a quick thinker and innovator. He helped push development of Mercedes-Benz's hot-selling M-Class sport-utility vehicle and adopted one-price selling policies for Mercedes in the U.S.
AutoNation is shedding some operations and installing its name and policy of one-price, no-haggle selling at more than 450 new- and used-car dealerships in 24 states. It intends to have new-car operations in all 50 states within a few years. The company also plans to launch direct sales via the Internet.
"He's the right guy for the right job," said Sheldon Sandler, chief executive of BelAir Partners, an investment bank focused on auto retailing.
Jackson and Michael Maroone, AutoNation's president and chief operating officer, are both former new-car dealers. Industry analysts say their experience should help the $20-billion company get its house in order.
While profitable, AutoNation has been hurt by changes in the used-car market that it once planned to dominate with a chain of huge superstores. The company also overestimated the strength of the auto rental market and after gobbling up National Car Rental, Alamo Rent-A-Car and CarTemp USA, it now wants to spin them off.
AutoNation's slumping shares rose 31 cents to close at $12.06 in moderate New York Stock Exchange trading. That's about 20% below their year-ago price.
"The chance to join the company that is defining automotive retailing is just irresistible," Jackson said, adding that his vision is to create a company that will forge "lifetime relationships" with customers who will shop at AutoNation brand stores for whatever make or model they are seeking.