Sonic execs drive up auto perks …

It’s been a rocky couple of years for the car industry, which still employs hundreds of thousands of Americans, and now the public owns hefty chunks of General Motors and Chrysler. So we wouldn’t be surprised if more than a few corporate boards see it as patriotic to support automakers.

But pay $87,378 for automotive transportation for one executive in a year? That’s the value Sonic Automotive Inc. (SAH) pegged in its recent proxy for the personal use of company vehicles last year by Chairman and Chief Executive O. Bruton Smith, the founder of the dealership chain. For President and Chief Strategic Officer B. Scott Smith (Bruton’s son), the Charlotte, N.C. company valued the perk at $35,427. But for three other executives, “the incremental cost of demo vehicles is not calculable because those vehicles are provided to the executive by our dealership subsidiaries.” (Do dealerships really have that much trouble putting values on their inventory?)

Just for the record, with that kind of cash, Bruton could pick up a 2010 Jaguar XK Coupe outright, with a little left over for vanity plates and a pair of fuzzy dice — or as many as five of the 2010 Honda Civic VP Sedans it’s offering through its Honda dealership in Tyson’s Corner, Va.

In its filing, Sonic Automotive calls personal use of company vehicles “a common competitive perquisite afforded to executives in the automobile dealership industry.”

Sonic Automotive isn’t the only company getting personal with automotive perks. Home BancShares Inc., a Conway, Ark., bank holding company that got $50 million in federal bank-bailout funds in January 2009, pays to fill up the tanks of executives’ personal vehicles. Chairman John W. Allison got $2,117 in gas last year, according to its latest proxy. At last year’s average price in Arkansas, it works out to more than 800 gallons. And that’s on top of an $18,000 “auto allowance” and $16,500 in personal flight services from the pilot who flies the plane Sonic leases — from a firm owned by Allison.

Image source: macieklew via Flickr