More and more, the import brands are realizing that it doesn't pay to have competitors' vehicles in their showrooms.
The solution: Exclusive dealerships. Stand-alone dealerships. Single-line dealerships. Call 'em what you will, they're all the same thing. Dealerships that handle a single make of imported vehicles and nothing else.
In 2005, for the sixth consecutive year, the number of import exclusives set a record. There were 5,904 of them on Jan. 1 of this year, up 5.1 percent from the previous peak of 5,618 a year earlier.
At the same time, single-line stores for General Motors, Ford Motor Co. and the Chrysler group slipped to 6,927 from 7,077 at the beginning of 2005.
At that rate, exclusives for imports will outnumber single-line outlets for the Detroit 3 in 2008. There's a difference, however. Most Detroit 3 duals are within the corporation; for example, Buick-Pontiac-GMC. If the dealer can't sell the customer a Buick LaCrosse, he may put the shopper into a Pontiac G6 or a GMC Sierra.
Onward and upward
But consider a Hyundai-Honda-BMW store. Three brands, three manufacturers. The buyer may stay with the dealership, but the money may wend its way to a different country. The answer often is to dump the lower-volume models and put all the money in the same pocket.
As the number of import-only dealerships has risen, the number of import-only duals has declined. There were 903 at the beginning of this year, down from 947 as 2005 dawned.
Another 2,300-plus dealerships handle a combination of domestic and imported makes. They are counted in the domestic dealership total.
Single-line import outlets have marched forward steadily since Automotive News began counting such things in 1957. That year, there were 288 of them, and nearly all of them handled Volkswagen.
As the imports gained sales clout, the number of solo outlets kept pace. In 1986, the tally was 2,974, and in 1996, it was 3,486. Today's 5,904 represents a gain of 69.4 percent in 10 years.
Honda tops Toyota
The Japanese rule the ranks of single-line dealerships. The 5,904 stand-alones include 4,115 Japanese dealerships. That is 69.7 percent of the total. German makes are a distant second with 724, and Korea is third with 667, even though only two Korean makes are sold under their own names in this country.
In this Automotive News study, an exclusive is a dealership that has a separate showroom and service facilities. If a dealership has a separate showroom but shares the service department with another make, it is a dual in this compilation.
You may e-mail John K. Teahen Jr. at [email protected]