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Sonic Automotive sales increased; profits fell in 2Q

Sales increased but profits fell at Charlotte-based Sonic Automotive during its second quarter compared to last year, dragged down by one-time charges as a result of retiring debt, the company reported Tuesday.

Revenue during the second quarter, which ended June 30, was $2.2 billion, compared with $2.1 billion during the same quarter last year, an increase of 3.8 percent.

Sonic Automotive’s profits fell 68.4 percent compared with the same quarter a year ago, from $28.2 million to $8.9 million.

The decline is largely because the company took a one-time charge of $17.2 million in the quarter to extinguish debt, according to the earnings report released Tuesday.

The Fortune 500 automotive dealer, one of the nation’s largest, sold 35,400 new cars in the second quarter for a total of more than 67,000 new cars sold in the first six months of 2013.

That’s a nearly 2 percent increase from the 34,700 new cars sold during the second quarter of 2012, and a 4 percent increase from the nearly 65,000 new cars sold in the first six months of 2012.

Used car sales during the second quarter this year increased a fraction of 1 percent, from 26,500 used cars sold during the second quarter last year to 26,600 sold during the same quarter this year.

Much focus this past quarter has been on moving dealerships toward Sonic Automotive’s new “True Price” structure, which would eliminate the back-and-forth haggling over a price, a process that Sonic executives say often causes the customer to distrust the dealer.

The dealerships are also being trained to use Apple products to complete sales, which can drastically decrease the amount of time a customer has to spend on paperwork, executives said Tuesday.

But the process of retraining staff and unrolling new technology isn’t quick and easy.

“I wish there was a button we could push and say, ‘OK, here’s what we’re doing this year,’ ” says Jeff Dyke, the company’s executive vice president of operations. “But there isn’t.”

In May, Sonic Automotive announced it was acquiring a BMW and Mercedes-Benz dealership in Denver from Murray Motor Imports Co. of Denver.

“Both operations are brands that we operate very well and are in one of the best markets in the country,” company President B. Scott Smith said in a statement on Tuesday. Smith said they expect to close the sale in the third quarter.

Smith’s father, Bruton Smith, founded Sonic Automotive in 1997 and is the CEO of Speedway Motorsports.

Shares of Sonic fell 15 cents Tuesday, less than 1 percent, to close at $22.58.

McMillan: 704-358-6045;Twitter: @cbmcmillan
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