CAR STOP PIONEERS NICHE FOR OLDER USED AUTOS;AUTO NATION'S SISTER DEALER CHAIN WILL SPECIALIZE IN OLDER USED CARS

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AutoNation USA is approaching the potentially $100 billion used-car market with a two-tier strategy that will channel trade-ins from its AutoNation USA dealers to another network called Car Stop, specializing in older, higher-mileage used cars.

In fact, AutoNation USA's first opening is a Car Stop outlet: in suburban Orlando. There was little hoopla and no visible link to the AutoNation name.

Each chain will go its separate way in advertising, sharing little beyond their corporate parent, said Tom Gruber, senior VP at AutoNation USA.

Initial print support for Car Stop, via Zimmerman & Partners, Fort Lauderdale, Fla., broke in The Orlando Sentinel; more is planned for April. Hill, Holliday, Connors, Cosmopolus, Boston, handles the AutoNation network.

The first five AutoNation USA units are planned for Florida, Dallas and Houston this year, Mr. Gruber said. One a month will be opened in 1997.

SEPARATE LINES

"We want to keep [AutoNation and Car Stop] as separate brand-managed lines," Mr. Gruber explained. The only linkage: Car Stop will be the next stop for AutoNation's trade-ins. "We can retail those cars through the Car Stop distribution program."

AutoNation's two-tier approach appears to be unique in the burgeoning field of used-car dealerships. Analysts called the dual branding a wise move in what is destined to become a crowded market.

"Their having two separate channels is really quite logical," said Art Spinella VP-general manager of CNW Marketing Research. "There is clearly far more product available in the 5-to-7-year-old market than there is 2 to 4 years old."

OTHER PLAYERS

The used-car market is likely to jam up with competitors. Others getting into the field already include Circuit City used-car superstore CarMax, Driver's Mart Worldwide and CarChoice.

New-car dealers also are realizing the value consumers are placing on well-kept, low-mileage trade-ins. General Motors Corp.'s Chevrolet division has created a certified used-car program, currently testing in select markets, that will keep used cars at dealerships, Mr. Spinella said.

AutoNation recently began staffing up for the competitive battle. Steven R. Berrard moved from president-CEO of Blockbuster Entertainment Group to the same title at the used-car retailer he founded with former boss H. Wayne Huizenga and auto magnate Jim Moran.

Joining him at the parent company is Max Butler, director-advertising, promotion and merchandising, from VP-account supervisor on the Saturn account at Hal Riney & Partners, Atlanta. Mr. Butler assumes the role from Betsi O'Neill, who will take the same title with Car Stop.

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