IndiGO now fully owned by Dutch company

Industry

IndiGO Auto Group of Houston, a growing luxury and performance dealership group that just added three stores in Northern California, is now wholly owned by Pon Holdings, a mobility and transportation conglomerate in the Netherlands.

Todd Blue, indiGO’s founder and CEO, said Pon purchased an 80 percent stake in his then-10-store dealership group in October 2017 and about three months ago exercised its rights to buy the remaining 20 percent stake.

Blue told Automotive News that Pon’s leaders were excited by indiGO’s performance since taking a stake in the dealership group. Blue said he’s been “thrilled with their stewardship and ownership and their financial strength to allow us to grow.”

With the most recent acquisition, indiGO has 18 dealerships in seven U.S. markets, primarily selling luxury-brand vehicles.

Pon, which distributes and retails most Volkswagen Group brands in the Netherlands, wants to expand its U.S. dealership business organically and through strategic acquisitions, Paul van Splunteren, senior vice president of Pon Luxury Cars, wrote in an email to Automotive News.

“We are very happy with our market entrance in the U.S. luxury and performance market,” he said. “We have a great team of people and are expanding our activities, always looking for exceptional talent to complement our local teams. We are actively participating in the transition of mobility products and services with our customers and the brands we represent.”

This month, indiGO bought Porsche, Audi and Volkswagen dealerships in Mill Valley and San Rafael, Calif., from Peter Sonnen, who opted to retire.

“We believe strongly in California, and we believe strongly in the Volkswagen Group, and Porsche in particular, and we thought this was an opportunity to do what we do, [which is] advance the ball on and improve sales and bring our culture to this market and grow it,” Blue said.

Two of Sonnen’s stores, Sonnen Volkswagen and Audi Marin, were central to a multimillion-dollar embezzlement scheme. The purchase came just days after the alleged embezzlement mastermind was sentenced to prison.

In January 2018, Amir Bakhtiari, general manager of the Volkswagen and Audi stores from 2009 to 2016; Arlette Casino, Sonnen Motorcars controller from 2013 to 2016; and Austin Caba, a Burlingame, Calif., resident, were arrested for allegedly bilking more than $6 million from Sonnen Motorcars through a fake advertising plot.

Bakhtiari, 51, of Newport Beach, Calif., who in March pleaded guilty to wire fraud and filing a false tax return, was sentenced to four and a half years in federal prison last month for embezzling $6.6 million from Sonnen Motorcars over seven years, according to the San Francisco Chronicle.
Bakhtiari, according to the indictment, arranged for Sonnen to pay fraudulent invoices to fake advertising vendors, who then gave most of the money back to Bakhtiari. The Department of Justice claimed Casino and Caba, who controlled one of the fake vendors, conspired with Bakhtiari since at least 2013. Caba pleaded guilty to wire fraud and awaits sentencing, while Casino of Santa Rosa, Calif., pleaded not guilty and that case continues, according to the Marin Independent Journal.

Blue, who remains at indiGO’s helm to focus on growth, including merger and acquisition opportunities, indicated the possibility for mobility partnerships among Pon companies and brands in the U.S.

Pon owns several bicycle companies, such as Santa Cruz Bicycles, near the stores just purchased in Marin County.

“We’re very excited to aggregate the Pon businesses in the Bay Area and in the San Francisco market and continue to grow and maximize mobility opportunities as mobility continues to merge together in all new ways,” Blue said.

Haig Partners, a Fort Lauderdale, Fla., buy-sell firm, represented the seller in the transaction.

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