Texas-based Group 1 buys Jay Automotive’s six Columbus dealerships

Group 1’s local brands now include Ford, Toyota, Mazda, Buick-GMC, Subaru, Scion and Volvo

tadams@ledger-enquirer.comDecember 9, 2013 

Jay Automotive Group, with six major vehicle brands, is now under new ownership.

Houston, Texas-based Group 1 Automotive said Monday it is now in possession of the 24.5-acre auto mall on Whittlesey Road in Columbus.

“We consummated the deal this afternoon,” said Pete DeLongchamps, Group 1 vice president of manufacturer relations and public affairs. “We are pleased to confirm that we have completed the transaction and are delighted to grow our business in the Columbus market.”

DeLongchamps declined to disclose the purchase price for the auto mall, which has been at its current location 15 years. It includes the Toyota, Mazda, Buick-GMC, Subaru, Scion and Volvo brands, as well as a collision center. The company did say the new dealerships should generate a combined $150 million in annual revenue for Group 1.

The auto mall sits across from Rivertown Ford, which Group 1 bought from veteran Columbus auto dealer Richard Stephens last year.

The shift from the Jay name to “Rivertown,” which will grace the signage of the new Group 1 dealerships, begins immediately, with workers spotted early Monday taking the former owner’s name down from the used-vehicle center.

Jay Stelzenmuller, president of Jay Automotive Groups, had persistently denied he was selling the property in the Bradley Park Drive area despite Group 1 having filed in Muscogee County Superior Court in October to trademark the “Rivertown” name for the six dealerships. Calls to Stelzenmuller were not returned Monday.

This marks the apparent end of a three-decade automotive ride for Stelzenmuller, who started the company with his father, Jay Stelzenmuller II, and another partner, Gene Miller, in 1983. It was one brand initially — Jay Pontiac, a dealership near the downtown McDonald’s restaurant.

He moved that brand and his Box Road Toyota dealership to Whittlesey Road in 1998, paying $12 million to build the auto mall. A $10 million upgrade to the property began in 2007.

Through the years, brands have come and gone. Saturn and Pontiac disappeared in 2009 after General Motors eliminated them both. Volvo and Subaru were then added to the mix. Mitsubishi also fell by the wayside, while attempts to buy the Nissan and Chevrolet dealerships in Columbus were not successful. Stelzenmuller also at one point wanted to add Lexus to his portfolio, but that never came to be.

Group 1, meanwhile, is a publicly traded company that -- with the Jay Auto purchase -- operates 148 auto dealerships, 188 franchises and 37 collision centers in the United States, the United Kingdom and Brazil. Its portfolio includes 33 brands.

DeLongchamps said all of the Jay Auto employees are being picked up by Group 1 and that customers should not see much of a change at first.

“When we first came into Columbus with Rivertown Ford, I think there’s been a difference in customer service and availability of inventory, something we certainly believe is important,” he said. “I think that you’ll see subtle changes, but Group 1 is committed to customer service and being good community partners.”

Down the road, DeLongchamps said, some of the Columbus showrooms will get cosmetic work, which manufacturers had asked the owner to do.

“Every brand stands on its own and every one of those we look at as separate businesses,” he said. “But certainly there will be synergy in scale between the operations, which is the way big companies are supposed to work together.”

DeLongchamps said Group 1 this year will have acquired dealerships amounting to $1.3 billion in additional revenue for the company, which he said is approaching $10 billion in annual sales overall.

Group 1 Automotive shares dipped 8 cents to $69.41 in trading Monday on the New York Stock Exchange. The stock’s 52-week trading range is $54.91 to $82.40 per share.

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