It's a matter of shelf space.
Every carmaker wants it, and the only way to ensure it is to have exclusive dealerships for your product. The Japanese have known that for years. The Europeans are learning.
Last year, the import-badged makes of cars and trucks chalked up a net gain of 110 single-line dealerships to bring their total to 3,919. That is 81 percent of the 4,860 dealerships that sell only international-brand vehicles.
In the Automotive News tally, an import exclusive is a dealership that has a showroom and service facilities devoted to a single make. A separate showroom but a shared service department puts the outlet in the dual category.
European makes made the biggest advance last year as they added an estimated 106 pure exclusives. This gave the Europeans a total of 796 solo deals, up 15 percent from a year ago.
Biggest gainer was BMW, which has 185 pure exclusives, according to an Automotive News estimate. That's 50 more than at the beginning of 1998. BMW of North America says 273 of its 337 dealers have separate showrooms for BMW, but the company refuses to disclose how many of them have separate service facilities.
JAPANESE HAVE THE MOST
The Japanese makes have the most single-line dealerships - 2,983, which is 76 percent of the 3,919 total import exclusives. Even so, the Japanese total slipped 45 from last year's 3,028, principally because of dips by Mitsubishi and Infiniti.
All Mitsubishi dealerships have exclusive showrooms, and about half of those (249 of 502) are linked to Mitsubishi-only back-shop facilities. A year ago, Mitsubishi reported that 343 of its 502 dealerships were single-line sales and service stores.
Infiniti's dealer total held steady, but the division reported a switch in the makeup: fewer exclusives, more duals.
Korean entries Hyundai and Kia added 49 single-line outlets last year. They now have 140, a gain of 35 percent since the beginning of 1998.
Upon examination, the quest for shelf space is even more important in a car-truck dealership than it is in a food supermarket, where the term originated.
Having an exclusive outlet means better position in the showroom and more attention from the sales staff.
A single-line dealership ensures that the make will have 100 percent display space and 100 percent effort from the salespeople. If a store handles two or more brands, the lower-volume entries are likely to be neglected.
A LONG WAY TO GO
Toyota (716), Honda (676) and Nissan (554) have the most exclusive outlets, but even those three are a long way from full-scale single-line operations. Sixty percent of Toyota's dealerships are one-liners, and the shares are 68 percent for Honda and 52 percent for Nissan. Only Lexus claims 100 percent: 174 out of 174.
Eleven of the 26 makes studied by Automotive News have 50 percent or more of their dealerships in the pure exclusives column. Twelve others are below 20 percent.
Daewoo, the newest make on the U.S. market, is not included in the study. Daewoo has no franchised dealerships; it sells its cars through factory-owned retail stores.