Fort Lauderdale-based AutoNation received $77 million in coronavirus relief money

Loan intended to pay furloughed employees returned by company Friday, VP says

AutoNation is headquartered in downtown Fort Lauderdale. (AutoNation, WPLG)

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. – Fort Lauderdale-based AutoNation, founded by self-made billionaire, the late Wayne Huizenga in 1996, is the latest large company to return millions of dollars it received from the federal small business Paycheck Protection Program.

The automotive retailer, which owns and operates 231 stores across the United States, received $77 million in the federal loan fund despite its revenues of being more than $21 billion.

“AutoNation was clearly eligible and applied on behalf of the 7,000 employees furloughed caused by the COVID-19 crisis, Executive Vice President and Chief Marketing Officer Marc Cannon told Local’s Michelle Solomon, when contacted Saturday.

Cannon said the retailer intended to rehire all 7,000 associates under the PPP program as encouraged by the government and designed to get individuals back to work.

"From the beginning, AutoNation decided that all PPP funds would be used only for our employees and nothing else,” stressed Cannon.

Cannon said that on Thursday, April 23, at 10:30 a.m., the company learned of the SBA’s newly issued guidelines. SBA’s new guidelines makes it “unlikely” that big publicly traded companies can access the next round of funding for the U.S. government’s small business relief program.

(RELATED: See SBA’s New Guidelines released Thursday)

“(These were) completely different from the original ones.” Cannon said. That is when AutoNation called a board meeting at 11 a.m., immediately after learning of the new guidelines.

“(We) decided to cancel all PPP applications and return all PPP funds, which we have as of late Friday,” Cannon told

The Washington Post obtained documents detailing the PPP payout to AutoNation. The Post reported that the company had applied for the funds using individual dealership tax ID numbers and more than 81 locations had already received loan money.

(Small business? How can you apply for a loan?)

AutoNation reported to its investors on Feb. 11, 2020 that its revenue for the full year 2019 totaled $21.3 billion. Its headquarters are located in downtown Fort Lauderdale at 200 SW 1st Ave.

On the Small Business Administration website, the Paycheck Protection Program is described as a loan designed to provide a direct incentive for small businesses to keep their workers on the payroll.

RELATED: Fisher Island’s residents vote to give back $2 million PPP loan

About the Author:

Michelle F. Solomon is the podcast producer/reporter/host of Local 10's original, true crime podcast The Florida Files and a digital journalist for Local She has a bachelor's degree from Emerson College, Boston, and a master's degree from SUNY-Empire State.