Today marks the final day of John Manchin’s 47-year automotive and remarketing career. The outgoing national fleet remarketing manager for Subaru of America Inc. will exit the headquarters building in Camden, N.J., one last time in a way appropriate to his leading career role.
“I’ll turn in my company car, and the car I’m buying will be waiting for me gassed up,” Manchin said. “I’ll put my golf clubs in it.” Should anyone ask, his retirement car is a good fit: A Subaru Forester Limited.
For 21 years, Manchin oversaw Subaru’s remarketing operation that moved vehicles, consigning them to auctions that then sold them to dealers. He has been responsible for the asset liquidation and remarketing activities for all Subaru vehicle groups in the secondary market. That includes managing 15 auctions at locations nationwide, 12 of which are also used by J.P. Morgan Chase, which originates leases and loans for the off-lease portfolio of Subaru.
“I believe the remarketing segment is unique and completely different than everything else in the automotive industry,” Manchin said. “Everybody knows each other and gets along. We get together and share best practices and don’t act like competitors,” he added, citing Toyota, Mazda, and Nissan. “We each sell our respective vehicles to our network of franchised dealerships.”
He started in the automotive world at age 20 selling cars for a Pontiac and Datsun dealership, and gained industry knowledge through retail, auto finance and remarketing leadership roles. His 12 years in banking/auto finance laid the groundwork for his remarketing work that started with lease returns.
Manchin joined Subaru in December 2001 as remarketing manager for Subaru Auto Leasing with the responsibility of liquidating the consumer off-lease portfolio. He introduced and incorporated multi-channel, upstream remarketing at Subaru in March 2003 by designing and implementing SubaruSOLD, an internet-based remarketing system.
In 2009 he took over his current role as national fleet remarketing manager, where he handled all areas of remarketing except off-lease vehicles.
Typically, about 70-75% of the vehicles remarketed include rental buybacks and another 25% involve executive cars, employee lease cars, and promotional and marketing cars, he explained.
Subaru vehicles are only remarketed to dealerships in closed auction sales since the brand holds its value so well, Manchin said. FYI: The Outback and Forester compete for the top-selling Subaru model, historically.
A Tough Ending
The last chapter of Manchin’s Subaru career covered the pandemic effects on global production and remarketing while presenting some major challenges.
“COVID disrupted everything," he said. "Unfortunately, because of supply constraints in 2022 we did zero commercial fleet, with no sales or buybacks. Historically, we sold around 20,000 rental vehicles to Hertz and Avis/Budget, but for the ’22 MY we did zero. Fleet business is based on excess capacity. We had no rental/fleet business because we have an order bank of customers waiting months for new cars. All of our production is going to fill retail orders.”
Manchin also notes the lack of available rentals and company cars. Vehicles routinely driven for 6,000 miles are kept for 25,000 miles since new ones are hard to come by. Before COVID hit, Subaru handled an average of 1,700 cars per month at 15 Manheim auction locations nationwide.
“Rental accounts would buy cars in the spring, rent them out in the summer, then after back to school, the cars would be returned to auction as part of the de-fleeting process,” he said. “Wash-rinse-repeat. We did zero business in Spring 2022 and no cars came back in the fall of 2022. Auction inventory decreased by 75-80%.
“I’m tired of saying this is unprecedented, but often that is the best descriptive adjective to describe the current market conditions. There’s no predictability. Everything has come down to the last minute, last second.”
Subaru set sales records every year from 2008-2019, with over 700,000 vehicles sold in calendar year 2019. Since then, the fleet percentage has declined from 5% to 2%, with 6% the highest Subaru ever did. “Given consumer popularity, we needed to stay in the rental business because the brand gains exposure to consumers,” Manchin said.
An Early Digital Adoption
COVID has taught everyone that you can get a lot of work done remotely, Manchin said, but for him, that venue evolved a decade before.
Subaru was an early adopter of digital auctions, already doing 75% of them online in 2009, he said. It pursued online auctions out of necessity since Manchin at times had to oversee auctions the same day on the East and West coasts and needed to do one remotely.
Before that set up, Manchin was traveling to each of 15 auctions twice per year putting him on a plane two to three times per month. He would be onsite for two auction sales, and online for the other 10 auction sales each year in each city. The pandemic accelerated the move to more digital versus physical auctions, leaving Manchin at the end of his career with about 90-95% remote-digital auctions.
“I’m very glad I realized the advantage of remote selling in the digital space early in my career,” Manchin said. “It saves the time and expense of traveling to auctions. If I were to have done it old school, and physically attended every sale, I would have been traveling four weeks a month. I’m happy I didn’t do that. I enjoyed a work-life balance. I was not a road warrior, thanks to embracing technology.”
In April 2020, Manheim said no one was allowed to come to the auctions because of pandemic precautions, Manchin recalled. “The auctioneer was on a block behind plexiglass. Everyone logged on to their computers and and it was a paradigm shift for everyone, except me.”
An Award-Winning Blowout
Manchin is open to staying involved in remarketing with possible consulting opportunities. “I do not want to just walk away from an industry that I enjoyed for many years,” he said. For now, he leaves with the distinction of winning two major industry awards in 2022.
On March 24, at the Conference of Automotive Remarketing in Las Vegas, Manchin was named the 2022 Consignor of the Year. The award, which is sponsored by Bobit Business Media and the National Auto Auction Association, recognizes a consignor who has applied best practices; created industry innovations; moved the industry forward with professionalism; shared expertise with the industry; participated in industry associations; and served as a mentor to the next generation of remarketing professionals.
After receiving the award, Manchin in an interview credited Subaru with his good career and cited the many business relationships that turned into long-term friendships.
“I was one of those people who was blessed to be happy with their career. Work never seemed like work. I just thoroughly enjoyed my job. In all my years of remarketing, I met a lot of people. What was special were the relationships that began as colleagues, or vendors, or business partners, and they quickly turned into great friendships in the industry.”
On Nov. 17, Manchin received the Ron Smith Lifetime Achievement Award during Used Car Week in San Diego, an award that has only been given five times in 20 years.
As an added recognition, his son, Christopher Manchin, a business law attorney in Philadelphia, flew out to San Diego to surprise his dad at the awards luncheon.
During the flight home, the younger Manchin emailed his father, which could qualify as the ultimate award:
“Congratulations again, Dad! I’m so happy I was able to be here today and witness everything. It was awesome to see you in your element and meet your colleagues (who were all great). You’ve always been my inspiration and role model and I couldn’t have asked for someone better to look up to. You figured out the whole “work-life balance” thing before anyone even coined that term. Now that I understand what it takes to be successful in the corporate world, I appreciate even more all the time and effort you put into coaching and being a family man while Jon and I were growing up. But somehow you still managed to rise to the top of your profession and made sure our family was always provided for. You deserved every bit of the recognition you received today. I’m so incredibly proud of you. I love you.”
Originally posted on Vehicle Remarketing