It's been a wild ride for TrueCar, Inc. (NASDAQ:TRUE) investors over the past couple of years. After an underwhelming IPO in 2014, the stock proceeded to roughly double before it came crashing back down to earth last summer after numerous executive departures, lost partnerships, and an adjusted-EBITDA meltdown. The following chart looks like a roller-coaster, but the stock has battled back in 2016, and investors just received great news during AutoNation's (NYSE:AN) second-quarter earnings call.
What was said
Michael Jackson, chairman, president, and chief executive officer of AutoNation, had this to say when responding to a question about the TrueCar pilot program.
I recently met with [TrueCar CEO] Chip Perry sometime in the last couple weeks to do a review of the pilot that we had kicked off in the middle of the second quarter and benchmark all the results against our hopes and expectations. And it was a complete success. TrueCar has transformed itself into being really a win-win partner, and all the commitments and promises they had made to us were kept 100%. ... And my expectation now is, by the end of the year, TrueCar will have been implemented in all AutoNation stores.
Digging into details
The pilot Jackson spoke of originally spanned 55 of AutoNation's dealerships. For context, AutoNation owns 263 stores with over 360 franchises -- think of a Chevrolet and Cadillac dealership as being one store but two franchises.
The most recent expansion of the pilot between AutoNation and TrueCar adds 23 more stores into the mix, for a total of 78 out of 263 stores. More stores could be added relatively quickly if the relationship continues to mend, especially when considering Jackson's comments about having TrueCar in all stores by the end of the year.
From the get-go I believed that TrueCar had a slight amount of leverage. That's because consumers go to TrueCar's website looking for a car near the end of a purchase cycle, and whether or not the end dealership was one that AutoNation owned or not wasn't going to prevent a consumer from completing a transaction. That said, this is America's largest dealership group and a very important partner for TrueCar's image and business.
What else does this mean?
Further, and arguably more important, this mended relationship is proving a couple of things. According to AutoNews, citing AutoNation Chief Marketing Officer Marc Cannon, the close rate, quality of traffic, and value/pricing equation all vastly improved from when the partnership previously dissolved.
What that basically means is that TrueCar's "Pledge to Dealers" is working -- read this if you need a quick refresher. TrueCar's primary objective when Perry took over as CEO was to fix relationships with dealerships. The company vowed to change the way it commoditized dealerships on its website and enabled them to compete on factors other than price alone. TrueCar also improved many of its processes to be more dealership friendly and more efficient, and it redesigned its data policies to be more transparent.
In the end, it was supposed to be a win for everybody involved. Dealerships would have a better and simpler experience doing business with TrueCar, and the consumer received a better website product and purchase experience. While only time will tell if this success with AutoNation can be expanded to TrueCar's entire dealership network, this is a great step forward after a rocky year.