Single-line import dealerships increased significantly last year, and Toyota and Honda waged a battle for first place in that segment.
The foreign-badged vehicles added 271 exclusive outlets in 1999 to bring the total to 4,190. That is second only to the 4,240 counted on Jan. 1, 1990.
Toyota retained the lead as it added 13 one-liners for a total of 729.
Honda is a strong challenger. It set up 32 more exclusive dealerships last year and now has 708, just 21 behind Toyota. A year earlier, Honda was 40 behind.
Exclusive dealerships are coveted by all imported makes for two reasons: display space and sales staff attention. In a one-liner, a make has 100 percent of the display space and 100 percent of the effort of the sales staff.
Though desirable, exclusives are hard to come by for most imports. Volume is not sufficient to support a large complement of single-line stores.
Even best-selling makes are affected. Only 61 percent of the Toyota locations and 71 percent of the Honda outlets are one-liners.
Automotive News finds that exclusives make up 60 percent of the dealer body for only nine of the 27 foreign-badged brands on the U.S. market.
Three others are in the 50 percent range, and 15 are at 27 percent or less.
In the Automotive News tally, an import exclusive is one that has a showroom and service facilities devoted to a single make. A separate showroom but shared service department puts the outlet in the dual category.
All 517 Mitsubishi dealerships, for example, have exclusive showrooms, but only 279 of those are combined with a service department.
BMW says 302 of its 346 outlets have separate showrooms, but BMW refuses to disclose how many of them meet the Automotive News sales-service test.
Japan, which accounts for the bulk of imported-vehicle sales, also rules the exclusive dealership category.
The Japanese makes have 3,055, or 73 percent, of the 4,190 single-line import outlets.
German makes are next with 550, or 13 percent. Totals for other nations are Sweden, 227; South Korea, 225; Great Britain, 114; and Italy, 19.