Cleveland auto dealer, tech investor, and community leader Bernie Moreno has sold seven Ohio highline dealerships to a Canadian group. 
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Cleveland auto dealer, tech investor, and community leader Bernie Moreno has sold seven Ohio highline dealerships to a Canadian group.

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CLEVELAND, Ohio — Cleveland-based dealer Bernie Moreno has sold seven of his eight Ohio dealerships to Rafih Auto Group of Windsor, Ontario, Canada. Moreno retains ownership of Buick GMC of Beachwood, Ohio, a Cleveland suburb, and Infiniti of Coral Gables, Fla. He will now devote more attention to his digital enterprises, including Ownum, home of the recently launched CHAMPtitles blockchain documentation solution.

“I could do one or the other, not both,” Moreno told Cleveland.com Wednesday. In an earlier interview, he said his experience as a dealer drew him to the new technology, which could prove to be a key driver of Cleveland’s communitywide “Blockland” initiative. Ownum’s directors have said they hope to deploy CHAMPtitles in all 50 states by 2021.

“First of all, it’s what I know. That makes it easier,” Moreno said in March. “Car titles are near and dear to my heart. I’m intimately aware of the friction that’s involved with having this crazy piece of paper. If you ask people in the car business, auction business, insurance business who handle these titles, or bankers, they’ll tell you this piece of paper causes major administrative issues for everybody involved.”

Moreno’s empire included 15 dealerships generating annual sales revenue north of $1 billion as recently as 2016, when he was profiled in F&I and Showroom. In 2017, he sold his Volkswagen and Nissan stores to focus on luxury makes. Terms were not disclosed for the Rafih deal, which closed in late March and includes Moreno’s first dealership, Mercedes-Benz of North Olmsted, Ohio, and his Aston Martin, Bentley, Lotus, Maserati, Porsche, and Rolls-Royce franchises.

The dealer turned tech exec told Automotive News this week that deteriorating factory-dealer relations, including onerous facility improvement mandates, had affected his outlook.

“For me, the car business was less fun than it was when I started in it 20 years ago,” Moreno told AN. Faced with the choice of continued growth or a pivot to emerging technology, he recalled asking himself, “Do I keep going forward and build an even bigger enterprise, or where is this thing going in the next 10 or 15 years?”

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