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AutoNation CEO Says Auto Sales Are ‘Pretty Strong’ and Consumers Are in ‘Good Shape’

October 15, 2019, 6:41 PM UTC

U.S. auto sales are sputtering so far this year. For the first nine months of 2019, sales at the Big Three and several foreign carmakers fell sharply. But Cheryl Miller is still upbeat about the outlook and she’s in a position to know. As the new CEO of AutoNation, she runs the world’s largest car dealership.

“The customer is in pretty good shape,” she says. “So I feel reasonably good about where auto sales are and where they’re going to be for the balance of the year. Certainly the business is cyclical, but it’s at a pretty strong point still.”

Miller says she’s optimistic because when she talks with customers they’re eager to buy trucks and SUVs and there’s also strong demand for what she calls “nearly new” vehicles, or what many people refer to as  “used cars.”

She adds that despite question marks about the US economy slipping into recession, concerns about trade wars and tariffs, and the sharp swings in the stock market, her customers are not slamming the brakes because of gloomy news headlines.

“When they see headlines, it does put them on pause for a minute,” Miller says. “But we do feel that with the amount of jobs and the employment rate within the country, that we’re still seeing good interest in purchasing and servicing vehicles.

Miller is the first woman in the driver’s seat at AutoNation. She is also one of 36 women CEOs running Fortune 500 companies, and she was featured on Fortune‘s annual list of powerful women in business to watch. AutoNation, based in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., is ranked on Fortune’s list of the 500 biggest companies in the country with 2018 revenues of more than $21 billion.

Miller says her goal is to expand AutoNation’s offerings in mobility and to bring self-driving vehicles to the public through its partnership with Waymo, the autonomous vehicle division of Google.

“What the Waymo relationship shows, is how relevant we are for mobility in the future,” says Miller. “So when people ask about bricks and mortar and what does auto retail look like in the future, we’re on the ground floor.”

Watch the video above for more from my interview with Miller.