Mark McLarty said Thursday that he has acquired Bale Honda in Little Rock from John H. “Johnny” Bale and John Sahene.
The dealership, at 10 Col. Glenn Court in Little Rock, will operate as Landers-McLarty Honda, with Steve Landers Jr. overseeing day-to-day operations.
"Stevie and I are interested to grow this over the long term," McLarty told Arkansas Business. "To really have this be a cornerstone in what could be decades to come in building up [an auto] group …"
Terms of the deal, which has been approved American Honda Motor Co. Inc., were not disclosed.
Bale Honda is McLarty’s first acquisition in Arkansas since he led the merger of North Point Automotive, a Little Rock-based dealer group, with Asbury Automotive Group in 1999. The merger was part of a wave of auto dealership consolidations around that time.
"I am pleased to invest in Arkansas and such an outstanding business in my hometown and my home state," McLarty said in a news release announcing the deal. "Bale Honda has been a market leader for many decades, and I look forward to building on that strong foundation. I believe there is plenty of room for growth in the future. Honda is a world-class brand with outstanding products."
Landers said he’s excited about his role in the dealership.
"My experience has taught me that success at the dealership level is driven by a talented team that can best serve the evolving needs of the customer," he said.
Bale owns the Bale Automotive Group, which was founded in 1912. It owns Bale Chevrolet at 13101 Chenal Parkway in Little Rock.
McLarty returns to Arkansas after building and leading auto businesses in Brazil, China and Mexico where he has lived and worked for the last 15 years. He is one of the sons of Thomas F. "Mack" McLarty, whose family has been in the automobile dealership business since 1921, and who has his own dealership holdings.
Mark McLarty began his overseas businesses in 1999, buying a majority stake of the Caltabiano dealership group in Sao Paulo, Brazil.
In 2005, he moved to China and, with TPG Capital, co-founded China Grand Auto and worked as the company’s first CEO. Three years later, McLarty led an investor group that acquired a controlling interest in YanJun Automotive, the largest BMW and Mini dealership group in China, from Citigroup.
Arkansas Business interviewed McLarty in China in 2010.
Over the next five years as chairman and CEO, McLarty led YanJun to expansion in northern China, opening Porsche, Jaguar, Land Rover and Volvo dealerships before merging the business with Baoxin Automotive of Shanghai.
McLarty remains a shareholder in China Grand Auto and Baoxin Automotive. He is also founder and chairman of GDV Imports, the sole distributorship for Jaguar Land Rover in Mexico, an acquisition he led in 2010.
McLarty said Landers is a minority partner in the ownership group for Landers-McLarty Honda.
Long established in Little Rock, Bale Honda moved to a new location on Col. Glenn in 2009. JJ Investments of Arkansas LLC, led by Bale and Sahene, paid for development of the property through a $15 million funding agreement reached in 2008 with Regions Bank.
McLarty said he began looking for local business opportunities about a year and a half ago. Interested in working with people he knew and trusted, he began talking to existing dealers and eventually met with Bale and Sehene, who were interested in exploring a sale.
He said the parties agreed to the deal months ago, but had to await approval from American Honda. McLarty met with Honda employees Thursday to officially mark the sale.
McLarty said he was attracted to Bale Honda’s experience workforce and "excellent" parts and service operation. He said the dealership has long been the top Honda vendor in Arkansas, but that he thinks there’s still opportunity to grow.