General Motors, Ford Motor Co. and the U.S.-badged brands of DaimlerChrysler continue to swing their Project 2000 axes in anticipation of the millennium.
The two U.S. auto companies and DaimlerChrysler's Chrysler, Plymouth, Dodge and Jeep lines chopped 335 dealerships from their retail networks in 1998.
Meanwhile, import companies added 89 outlets.
The vehicle industry's total of 22,076 car and light-truck dealerships on Jan. 1, 1999, was down 246 from 22,322 on Jan. 1, 1998, the annual Automotive News census discloses.
The 1998 dealership decline was more than twice that of 1997, when 105 were dropped. Import exclusives increased by 110 last year, while import-only duals declined by 21.
On Jan. 1, 1999, 21,198 dealerships handled cars (nearly all of them handled light trucks, too).
Another 878 were exclusive light-truck outlets: Dodge, 2; GMC, 194; Isuzu, 22; Jeep, 585; and Land Rover, 75.
The annual Automotive News census gauges the health of the retail industry. Generally, fewer dealers call it quits in good times than in lean times, but that guideline currently is skewed because GM, Ford and DaimlerChrysler's Chrysler, Plymouth, Dodge and Jeep lines are well into plans to reduce their retail networks.
CHANNELS AND NETWORKS
GM's channel strategy calls for realigning, consolidating and reducing its dealership total to about 7,000, not including Saturn. GM, which has the most dealerships, lost the most in 1998. It had 8,118 dealerships on Jan. 1, 1999 - 225 fewer than on Jan. 1, 1998. Not including Saturn's 394 stores, GM has 724 dealerships to go before it reaches 7,000. Last year's dip followed a decline of 203 outlets in 1997.
Ford had 4,834 dealerships on Jan. 1, 77 fewer than it had a year earlier. Ford's Retail Network strategy calls for Ford to have ownership interest in joint ventures that replace individually owned dealerships in specific cities.
DaimlerChrysler has combined Chrysler, Plymouth and Jeep into one division; another division is composed of Dodge car and Dodge truck. Eagle was dropped at the end of the 1998 model year.
DaimlerChrysler had 1,494 four-pack dealerships on Jan. 1, up from 1,246 six-pack outlets a year earlier. The four-packs are Chrysler-Plymouth-Dodge-Jeep. The six-packs included Eagle and counted Dodge truck separately. The company wants to continue to increase the number of full-line stores.
As a result of the death of Eagle, there now are 585 Jeep-only stores. A year earlier there were 26 Jeep-only outlets and 626 Jeep-Eagle duals.
IMPORT DEALS RISE
GM, Ford and the former Chrysler Corp. brands had a combined loss of 370 dealerships last year. The dip was cut to 335 by a change in the number of intercorporate duals. An intercorporate dual is a dealership that handles the cars and light trucks of two or all of the three companies at the same store.
All figures in this article and the accompanying tables refer to the net change in dealership totals.
As the number of U.S.-badged dealerships dwindles, import-only numbers are on the rise.
A total of 4,860 dealerships sold only import cars and light trucks as of Jan. 1 - 3,919 exclusives and 941 duals. On Jan. 1, 1998, the import-only count was 4,771 - 3,809 exclusives and 962 duals.
Automotive News defines an import exclusive as a dealership that has sales and service facilities for a single import line. If the imported make has a separate showroom but shares shop space with another make, the dealership is a dual.
The overall franchise total declined 2,299 last year, to 46,882 on Jan. 1, 1999, from 49,181 on Jan. 1, 1998. That was because of the death of Eagle, which accounted for 2,281 franchises. Aside from Eagle, the overall franchise total was down only 18.
GM, Ford and the U.S.-badged brands of DaimlerChrysler had 36,699 franchises on Jan. 1, 1999, vs. 39,040 a year earlier. Franchises of overseas-based brands totaled 10,183, up 42 from a year ago.
D/C ADDS AND SUBTRACTS
Although DaimlerChrysler's over- all U.S.-badged franchise total was down because of Eagle, the company added 237 Jeep franchises; five Plymouth; four Dodge car; and three Chrysler. Dodge truck was down two.
Saturn was the only franchise gainer at GM, which was down 186 overall. Saturn was up nine. The GM losers: Chevrolet, 55; Oldsmobile, 45; GMC, 30; Cadillac, 25; and Buick and Pontiac, 20 each.
Ford Motor Co.'s franchise total declined by 121. Ford Division was down 60; Mercury declined 41; and Lincoln was down 20.
Among the imports, South Korean franchises racked up the largest increase, thanks to Kia, which added 150. Hyundai was unchanged. Daewoo sells cars through its 15 factory-owned outlets and had no franchised dealerships on Jan. 1, 1999.
The franchise total for German vehicles was up, but the count dipped for four other countries. Japan was down 68; Sweden, 26; Italy, 17; and Great Britain, three.
Among individual makes, double-digit decreases were posted by Mazda, 44; Volvo, 18; Subaru, 15; and Nissan, 13. Kia and Suzuki (up 24) were the only imports to report double-digit increases in franchises.
THE CAR-TRUCK MIX
Every Ford Motor Co. dealership sells light trucks and cars, as do 3,897 Chrysler, Plymouth, Dodge and Jeep outlets. There are 585 Jeep and two Dodge dealerships that sell light trucks only.
Automotive News estimates that about 7,500 of GM's 8,118 outlets handle trucks - all except the Saturn and Buick exclusives.
Land Rover is the only British brand that handles trucks, and Mercedes-Benz and Volkswagen are the only German lines that have them.
Every Japanese brand except Subaru has trucks; all but Isuzu have cars, too. Among the Korean makes, Kia has a truck, and Hyundai and Daewoo do not.
The Cadillac Catera, imported from Adam Opel AG in Germany, is the only captive import in the United States. A captive import is a foreign-made vehicle whose U.S. distribution is controlled by a U.S. manufacturer.