The automotive retail industry is at a interesting place, with high earnings juxtaposed against significant working hours and ongoing economic fluctuations. Insights from the Automotive News Dealership Salary Survey and data from the National Automobile Dealers Association (NADA) provide a detailed snapshot of the current state and potential future of dealership employee compensation.

Sustained High Earnings and Optimism

Despite a minor decline in overall average earnings in 2023 from the previous year, the compensation within the auto retail industry remains notably high.

In 2023, auto retail professionals expected to earn an average of $200,200, down slightly from $203,800 in 2022, yet maintaining a strong upward trajectory from 2021.

This robust compensation reflects not only the skills and responsibilities demanded in the industry but also the high volume and profitability of vehicle sales, which were most notable during the inventory shortages following the COVID-19 pandemic.

The majority of dealership employees are optimistic about their financial prospects, with 53% expecting pay increases over the next three years. This optimism is backed by recent trends where significant income boosts were observed: sales consultant earnings jumped 37%, sales manager income increased by 48%, and general manager pay soared by 49% in 2022, according to NADA’s Dealership Workforce Study.

Economic Fluctuations and Future Earnings

The surge in dealership earnings in recent years has been largely attributed to higher gross vehicle profits amid reduced inventory during the pandemic.

However, as one general manager in rural Illinois noted, “It’s hard to estimate how income may change…I saw a marked increase in pay in ’21 and ’22 as sales prices were higher. Whether that sustains itself moving forward is anyone’s guess.”

This statement reflects a common sentiment in the industry: while recent years have been lucrative, the sustainability of these profit margins remains uncertain, especially as the market stabilizes and inventory issues are resolved.

Addressing Challenges and Leveraging Opportunities

For dealerships, the fluctuating economic landscape presents both challenges and opportunities. The potential normalization of vehicle inventory and prices may require adjustments in sales strategies and compensation plans. Dealerships that anticipate and adapt to these changes can maintain their competitiveness and attractiveness as employers.

  1. Flexibility and Adaptability in Compensation Structures: As market dynamics evolve, flexible and performance-based compensation structures could become increasingly important. These structures not only align employee incentives with dealership goals but also adapt to economic shifts more fluidly.
  2. Investing in Employee Development: Continuous investment in employee training and development will be crucial. As the industry leans more towards digital sales platforms and electric vehicles, equipping staff with the necessary skills will enable dealerships to navigate the changing automotive landscape effectively.
  3. Work with a Recruiter: Collaborating with a specialized automotive recruiter can significantly enhance a dealership’s ability to attract and retain top talent. Recruiters have a deep understanding of the industry’s talent landscape and can identify candidates who not only possess the required skills but also fit well with a dealership’s culture and strategic goals. This partnership can be especially beneficial in times of economic uncertainty, as recruiters keep their pulse on market trends and shifts in employment demands, ensuring that dealerships are always ahead of the curve in securing the best professionals in the field.


The automotive retail industry’s path forward involves navigating economic uncertainties while capitalizing on the lessons learned during unusually profitable years. By fostering a workplace culture that values adaptability, equity, and continuous development, dealerships can ensure they not only attract but also retain top talent, positioning themselves for sustainable success in a rapidly evolving market.

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