The number of new-car and light-truck dealerships in the United States increased last year. The rise amounted to only three establishments, but it was the first annual upturn since 1986.
The annual Automotive News census found 22,007 dealerships in operation on Jan. 1, 2001, three more than the 22,004 counted a year earlier.
Import-badged makes accounted for the upturn. Big 3 dealerships were down 296; import-badged entries were up 299.
GM was down 164 dealerships; Ford Motor was down 113, and the Chrysler group was down 54. Because some of those dealerships handled the products of two or all three companies, the net loss was 296, for a total of 16,669 Big 3 dealerships.
The number of sites that sell only import-badged brands rose to 5,338 from 5,039 a year earlier. Import-badged exclusives, those that handle one import-badged brand and nothing else, showed the biggest gain, jumping to 4,397 from 4,140.
The changes in the dealer population reflect the strong sales of the past two years. Last year's loss of 66 establishments was about the same as the previous year's decline of 72.
Franchise totals were little changed last year, but, again, the Big 3 were down and the import-badged brands were up. GM, Ford and Chrysler group lost 334 franchises last year to wind up with 36,390. The import-badged brands gained 464 to finish the year at 10,976.