Lithia Motors reported third-quarter earnings of $9.8 million, a jump of more than 71 percent from the $5.7 million net a year earlier.

Lithia Motors reported third-quarter earnings of $9.8 million, a jump of more than 71 percent from the $5.7 million net a year earlier.

The Medford-based auto retailer said improved vehicle sales boosted revenue 14.7 percent to $582.7 million, compared with $508 million a year earlier. Lithia earned 37 cents per share for the quarter ending Sept. 30, compared with 40 cents per share in 2009. There were 23 percent more shares outstanding than a year earlier following an equity stock offering.

It was the sixth straight quarter in which the company's continued operations turned a profit. Helping contribute to that success is a new emphasis on affordable used cars.

The used car has long been a staple in Lithia Motors' sales approach, but the cash stream has grown wider of late as Lithia has gone from promoting certified used cars to offering three- to seven-year-old vehicles with a warranty and, most recently, autos with 80,000 miles that it once merely wholesaled to used-car dealers.

"It's something we got into about a year ago because consumers were asking for them and we were trying to fill those needs," Lithia Motors President Bryan DeBoer said Wednesday. "We have to get rid of those cars somehow, so why not give our customers opportunity? We recondition them to much higher standards than other dealers."

Among the nation's top auto retailers, Lithia is a clear leader in selling used vehicles, at a ratio of 1.05 to every new one. Used vehicle retail sales accounted for 27.3 percent of Lithia's revenue during the quarter, with 9,705 used vehicles sold at an average of $16,362.

Same-store used vehicle retail sales increased 20 percent during the third quarter and produced a 17 percent gross profit. Overall, Lithia's used vehicle sales rose 26.4 percent to just short of $190 million.

DeBoer said no specific region leans more to used-car buying in Lithia's 12-state, 85-store empire, but there is a distinct metro/rural difference.

"Where there is higher disposable incomes, we're not having to offer the older vehicles," he said. "We have found it's a great way to meet the needs of customers and it can be a steppingstone to selling them certified used or new cars as well."

During the third quarter, same-store sales increased 12 percent, including increases of 8 percent in new vehicle sales and 2.5 percent in service, body and parts sales.

Reach reporter Greg Stiles at 541-776-4463 or e-mail business@mailtribune.com.