During the war, some dealers got by on service and the few used cars that showed up. Others turned their service departments into machine shops and qualified for war contracts. Others simply gave up their franchises.
GM, for example, had 17,360 dealerships in June 1941. By February 1944, the total had slipped to 13,791.
Since World War II, the dealership population trend has been down, down, down. In the 62 years since 1947, the total has declined in 50 years and risen in just 12.
The 49,173 domestic-brand dealerships in 1949 have dwindled to about 13,263 today, a decline of 73 percent.
Of course, there were many more domestic brands in 1949. Over the years, the industry has said farewell to Nash, Hudson, Studebaker, Packard, Crosley, Kaiser, Frazer, Rambler, DeSoto, Plymouth and Oldsmobile. The Edsel came (in 1957) and went (in 1959).
Aside from Edsel, only two brands have joined the chase in the past 60-plus years: Saturn and Hummer.
GM is eager to sell Hummer, but it seems no one wants the hulking brute. And in the restructuring plan they submitted to Congress last month, GM executives said they're figuring out what to do with Saturn. A Saturn dealer leader said a decision is expected by early March.
The overall trend is clear: fewer but larger dealerships. Carmakers have preached that doctrine for years, and their prayers have been answered, though not exactly in the way they hoped.
In 1949, the 49,173 domestic dealerships sold 5,585,333 new cars and light trucks, an average of 114 per store. In 2007, the 14,199 domestic stores moved 8,253,507 new vehicles, an average of 577. And last year, bad as it was, domestic dealers averaged 473 new Detroit 3 vehicles per outlet.