DETROIT, March 8 (Reuters) - R.L. Polk & Co, owner of used-car history provider Carfax and a leading provider of auto industry data, is exploring its options, including selling the company or taking it public.
The suburban Detroit company has hired New York investment banking firm Evercore Partners to explore its options, which could include a sale, an initial public offering or acquisitions, Polk Vice President Lonnie Miller said.
"We're exploring strategic growth opportunities," Miller said. "There's no defined time line.
"There was no catalyst that made this happen," he added. "We're trying to see how we can accelerate some of the growth, and all the options are on the table. Everything's fair game."
Industry experts say Polk, family-owned for more than 140 years, could attract bids of about $1 billion. Companies that may have an interest include private equity firms, Automatic Data Processing, Reynolds and Reynolds, Dealertrack Technologies, KAR Auction Services, McGraw-Hill Cos Inc's J.D. Power and Associates, Cars.com and Cox Enterprises, which owns AutoTrader.com and Manheim.
Polk does not disclose financial information about the company, but Miller said the balance sheet was positive and the business was "very healthy." According to Automotive News, Polk generated revenue of $359 million in 2011.
Known to consumers through the Carfax business that provides the ownership and repair histories of vehicles, Polk also tracks registration data in every U.S. state in order to provide information on the types of cars purchased. It uses the data to forecast sales, help automakers with recalls, and track owner loyalty.
"They have something everybody likes," said Marc Cannon, senior vice president at U.S. dealership group AutoNation . "They've got themselves a niche.
"They have a real good reputation in the industry," he added. "They're very insightful. What they do with registrations is valuable to the industry."
Polk, based in Southfield, Michigan, was founded by Ralph Lane Polk in 1870 as a publisher of city directories. In the early 1920s, Alfred Sloan, president of General Motors, asked Ralph Polk to track auto data, and he built the company into a critical provider of information for the industry.
The company has remained in the family. Ralph Polk's great grandson, Stephen Polk, became chairman and chief executive in 1994.
Polk employs about 1,250 people globally, with offices in the United States, Canada, Western Europe, Australia, Japan and China. It is focused solely on the auto sector after selling its consumer information unit in 2000 to business information provider Equifax for $260 million.