The economy has been unpredictable, but it didn't seem to faze automobile buyers during the late summer and early fall as Lithia Motors dealers throughout the West saw sales increases.
The Medford-based auto retailer reported third-quarter earnings of $23.2 million, or 90 cents per share, its highest-ever earnings per share.
The nation's ninth-largest auto seller saw per-share earnings jump 48 percent and its quarterly revenue for the three months ending Sept. 30 increased 24 percent to $888.4 million from $715.2 million for the same period in 2011.
Lithia President and Chief Executive Officer Bryan DeBoer said expenses as a percentage of the company's gross income were at an all-time low.
Same-store, new-vehicle sales picked up 30 percent during the quarter, while used-vehicle sales increased 24 percent.
"We're not surprised, though, because people need a car for work, their life and recreation," said John North, Lithia Motors' corporate controller and vice president of finance. "We've started to see some recovery in some of our markets. There's definitely an improvement, but we still see a lot of room to run."
Through the first nine months of the year, Lithia's bottom line has improved 51 percent against its 2011 performance. The company earned $60.5 million versus $40.1 million a year earlier. Lithia's nine-month revenue was $2.5 billion, up 26.5 percent from $1.95 billion in 2011.
"We realigned our business during the downturn, and as things improved we've been able to maintain the discipline put in place in 2008, 2009 and 2010," North said. "The results are from the hard restructuring lesson we went through a few years ago combined with empowered store leadership earning business one customer at a time."
Low interest rates have been a key factor, with the average auto loan lasting five years and seven months.
During the third quarter, Lithia paid off $5 million in mortgages and refinanced approximately $16 million of mortgages to extend the maturity dates.
Lithia also announced it has acquired the Toyota franchise in Missoula, Mont., the second-largest city in the state. Lithia entered the western Montana market in April 2003.
In addition to declaring a 10-cents-per-share dividend, Lithia said it expects full-year per-share earnings of $2.88 to $2.90 on revenue of $3.2 to $3.3 billion.
Reach reporter Greg Stiles at 541-776-4463 or firstname.lastname@example.org.