AutoNation posted turbocharged first-quarter earnings, which the Fort Lauderdale-based auto sales giant said were fueled in part by a 29 percent spike in revenue in Florida compared with last year.
"First and foremost, the credit environment has improved," said Mike Jackson, chairman and chief executive officer of AutoNation, which posted improved sales around the country.
Banks and other lenders are again willing to approve loans for car buyers after having closed the spigots last year. And as the housing market in Florida is stabilizing, consumers are feeling more confident.
"People don't go out and spend $30,000 unless they feel more secure overall. They're feeling more secure about their jobs, and when they come in (to the showrooms), the credit environment is much better for them," said Jackson, who runs the nation's largest auto retail chain.
South Florida, in particular, "seems to be leading the state," he added.
AutoNation reported first-quarter net income from continuing operations rose 11 percent to $58.4 million from $52.6 million a year earlier. Revenue jumped 19 percent to $2.85 billion from $2.4 billion last year, helped by stronger retail sales of new and used vehicles.
The first-quarter results marked the second period in a row to show improvement from the prior year. AutoNation said it is hitting on all cylinders nationwide, as it stocks its showrooms with the vehicles that consumers want to buy.
"Our results give you a lot of confidence this is a real recovery," said Jackson, noting automakers' incentives to lure consumers to buy cars were down 12 percent in the first quarter from a year ago.
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