Lithia Motors acquires dealerships in Salem

Lithia now has 88 stores in 11 states; shares are nearing firm's record high

Lithia Motors has acquired a group of dealerships in Salem, expanding both its Oregon and luxury line holdings.

Medford-based Lithia, the nation's ninth-largest auto retailer, followed up on a group of upscale Portland dealerships in spring 2011 with the purchase of O'Brien Auto Group of Salem. The stores will be named BMW of Salem, Honda of Salem and Volkswagen of Salem, and add $110 million in estimated annual revenues, Lithia said.

"With Salem being the state capital, having a very secure economy, and being surrounded by agriculture, it made sense to us," said Lithia CEO Bryan DeBoer. "It plays to our strengths and really fits us because we're used to the brands."

O'Brien Auto Group, a Bellevue, Wash.-based dealer, has operated the Salem franchises since 2007. DeBoer said Lithia considered buying the Salem dealerships before Michael O'Brien ultimately closed his deal.

"He built the stores wonderfully and they've grown to be pretty high-performing stores," DeBoer said. "It's a lot easier to buy the stores today than in 2007. We acquire stores for the talent in the company, who are willing to grow. With our presence in Oregon, we can help provide talent if need be.

"Fortunately, they have a great team of people that understand BMW, Volkswagen and Honda."

The latest move pushes Lithia's store count to 88 in 11 states and adds 125 new employees.

The downtown dealerships were closed Monday while the transition took place. Lithia has indicated it will move the dealerships to a larger location on the Salem Parkway in the second half of 2014.

Lithia shares gained more than 2 percent Monday, closing at $55.33 — little more than a dollar from its all-time high of $57.04

Reach reporter Greg Stiles at 541-776-4463 or Follow him on Twitter @GregMTBusiness, and read his blog at Edge.

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