Mercedes-Benz USA Inc. will add about 16 dealerships in the next 18 months, the first additions after years of pruning the dealer body, CEO Paul Halata said last week.
Existing dealers will own most of the new dealerships, and most of the additions will be in the markets where the existing dealers operate. The auto company also has signed letters of intent with half a dozen new dealer principals, including about four minority candidates, Halata said.
Markets that will get new dealerships include Atlanta, Denver, Houston, Los Angeles, New York, Orlando, Phoenix and San Francisco.
Mercedes now has 310 U.S. dealerships, including 11 run by minority dealers. At its peak, the company had 423 dealerships in 1987.
Mercedes started cutting dealerships in a campaign for exclusivity that began in 1995.
U.S. sales plunged from 99,314 in 1986 to 58,868 in 1991, then rebounded to a record 206,638 in 2001.
Halata said Mercedes sales will continue to grow, including another record year for 2002, "but you are not going to see us tripling sales. We will have very controlled growth."
The sales boom since Mercedes introduced the M-class sport-utility in 1997 has put Mercedes solidly among the top 10 brands in the United States in sales per dealership.
"The average dealer has gone from around 200 (units a year) to more than 600," Halata said in an interview Tuesday, April 9.
He said the recent sales growth, combined with the changing demographics of Mercedes customers - more sales in the Sun Belt, for example - made it time to add dealerships.