DETROIT - For import-badged cars and trucks, the name of the game is "exclusive dealerships." A significant increase in the number of those single-line stores last year pushed the U.S. total to record levels.
The total rose to 4,704 on Jan. 1, 2002, up 305 from the previous record of 4,399 a year earlier, the Automotive News dealership census finds.
The huge gain in one-line import-badged dealerships was another indication of the solid position that overseas-based automakers now hold in this country, and it emphasized the banner year that their brands enjoyed on these shores.
Just about everything went right for the import-badged cars and trucks last year while the domestics grappled with a bevy of problems - some of them new, some of them old. The annual Automotive News dealer census pinpoints some of those struggles.
The Chrysler group finally killed Plymouth, a 74-year-old brand that was the No. 3 car seller for years. Not so in recent times. The former Chrysler Corp. starved Plymouth of product and finally pulled the plug.
At General Motors, the Oldsmobile situation shows just how far GM has to go before its takes Olds off the market. Some 450 Olds outlets bit the dust last year, but 2,350 remain as the division prepares to be phased out over the next several years.
At Ford Motor Co., the Mercury franchise total dived 13 percent as Ford Division dual dealers turned in their Mercury selling agreements. (See Page 6.)
For the year, the import-badged makes sold more cars and trucks; the Big 3 sold fewer. The import-badged makes gained 2.4 points of U.S. market share to 36.8 percent in 2001; the Big 3 lost 2.4 points of market share.
In addition to the 4,704 exclusives, 926 dealerships handle two or more import-badged lines with no domestics in the house.
As 2002 began, 83.6 percent of those 5,630 import-only dealerships were single-line establishments. That is far ahead of the figure for the domestic brands. Only 45.9 percent of the GM, Ford Motor and Chrysler group dealerships are exclusive.
And the domestic total comprises only exclusives within the parent corporation - for example, a Chevrolet store that handles no other GM makes. Many of the domestic "exclusives" handle import-badged cars and trucks. At GM nearly one-fourth of the exclusives have an import-badged make in the showroom.