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Smith Auto Group expands into Northwest Arkansas

Smith Auto Group has purchased Pineville, Mo.-based Hendren Auto Group, a move that will more than double the number of dealerships owned by and brands sold by the Fort Smith-based auto dealer.

Terms of the deal, finalized Tuesday (May 15), were not disclosed.

The acquisition will expand Smith Auto Group from two dealerships with three brands, to five dealerships with eight brands. Also, Smith Auto Group will grow from about 125 employees to a company with around 175 employees.

Smith Auto Group is a third generation, family-owned dealership that has been in Fort Smith since 1938. The first location was in downtown Fort Smith. In 1963, the facility was moved to 1215 U.S. 71 South, “on the curve” at Towson and Zero. The group has a Chevrolet-Cadillac dealership and a Nissan brand.

Kim Hendren and the Hendren family owned the Chevrolet, Ford and Dodge/Chrysler/Jeep/Ram dealerships on one contiguous space in Bella Vista. The family has owned the operation since 1988.

John Smith Jr., grandson of the automotive group founder and now the head of Smith Auto Group, said the deal has been in the works about five months. He said a mutual friend arranged a meeting between himself and members of the Hendren family. Smith wanted to expand, and the Hendren’s were ready to “move on from the car business ... and they thought we’d be a good fit,” Smith explained.

“We’ve been actively looking to diversify and expand our brands for several years. We had a couple of opportunities that didn’t work out,” Smith said in a phone interview.

Smith said expansion into the strong Northwest Arkansas economy will be “very beneficial” to the company.

"Hendren Auto Group was ideal for us to acquire due to its location, size and the synergies gained by adding these 3 dealerships to Smith Auto Group,” Smith said. “I just want to thank the Hendren family for all they did to make this happen. I’m really grateful for all they did to work with us through process.”

Smith admitted with a laugh that pushing the Ford brand will be different.

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“But, ultimately that was one of the big drivers, to have that (Ford) as a brand. We’ve been in the Chevy business for a long, long time, so to embrace your head-to-head competition, ... that is a change,” Smith said.

Smith Auto recently opened a $4 million Nissan dealership along Interstate 540 in Fort Smith. The new dealership will ultimately be part of an estimated $14 million project that will include the Chevrolet-Cadillac brands.

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