It's been a bumpy ride for TrueCar (TRUE 5.13%) investors over the last few months. On second thought, that's not an accurate depiction: TrueCar's stock price has been a roller-coaster drop, down nearly 75% year to date after dealership lawsuits, a poor second-quarter performance, the ended partnership with AutoNation, and the announced departure of CEO Scott Painter. It hasn't been pretty for shareholders.
That said, one of the core reasons to invest in TrueCar has been its potential to grow revenue and profits through many different channels over the next decade. The possibilities seemed so endless that they could come out of left field -- and that's exactly what happened recently.
A good example
Sam's Club, a warehouse division of Wal-Mart Stores, announced on Sept. 3 a new Auto Buying Program, "which provides guaranteed savings off the manufacturer's suggested retail price on new cars and access to exclusive member savings on used cars." The program is powered by TrueCar.
It's a great move from Sam's Club, which is trying to compete with rival Costco's quickly growing automotive member business, and it provides TrueCar with another avenue for unit sales growth through Sam's Club membership numbers, which reach into the millions nationwide.
More important for TrueCar investors, Sam's Club's Auto Buying Program isn't focused on generating profits -- that'll be left for TrueCar and dealerships -- but rather the program seeks to add value and convenience for its paying members. It's an attempt to clone the success of Costco's auto buying program, which has done well in recent years. Last year, for example, Costco members purchased nearly 400,000 vehicles through the program, and that's through a dealership network of roughly 3,000.
TrueCar's network of dealerships is more than three times that size, roughly 10,000, which means it will be easier for Sam's Club members to find and complete a deal -- but not that Sam's Club program could grow to three times the size of unit transactions as Costco's program.
However, if Sam's Club members end up generating even a fraction of the new-car sales that rival Costco does, it will be a huge win for TrueCar. For more context around how much those sales would matter, consider that the 400,000 vehicles purchased by Costco members through their program last year rivals the sales of America's largest new-car retailer, AutoNation, which sold 318,000 new cars and 214,000 used cars last year. Costco's 400,000-member-generated vehicle sales compares pretty impressively to TrueCar's total 610,000 vehicles sold by TrueCar Certified Dealers in 2014. If Sam's Club can generate even a quarter of Costco's new-vehicle sales, it will be very beneficial to TrueCar's unit sales total.
What it all means
Sam's Club is offering to TrueCar millions of consumers with an immense collective buying power who may not have even heard of TrueCar or used it otherwise. Of course, Sam's Club may never generate 400,000 unit sales for TrueCar, and not all of the sales generated from Sam's Club will be incremental, but a partnership between Sam's Club and TrueCar points to how wide-open the possibilities are for TrueCar down the road. It's entirely possible that we could be discussing a deal between unforeseen retailers and TrueCar for pricing on boats, RVs, or trailers in a decade -- who knows?
While that potential growth is tantalizing, there's no question that TrueCar has significant hurdles ahead of it before investors get a piece of that lucrative growth. TrueCar needs to solidify its core business model, replace CEO Scott Painter and President John Krafcik (who's also announced his departure), and prove to investors that its relationship with its network of dealerships -- which has been rocky at times -- is better than ever. So, while the deal with Sam's Club shows potential, TrueCar is a risky investment, and it's a company that has much to fix over the next 12 months before having a chance to become a multibagger for investors at these prices.