DETROIT -- While Ford Motor Co. continues to encourage combining Ford with Lincoln-Mercury stores in some metropolitan areas, Lincoln Mercury intends to retain dealerships handling only those two brands in the country's top 50 markets.
"We will decide, based on working with our dealers, what's the best footprint," said Jim Farley, Ford group vice president of marketing and communications. "In those markets, we're going to have exclusive dealers as our product plan gets more and more executed."
But the overall number of Lincoln-Mercury-only dealerships is shrinking. With 357 Lincoln-Mercury-only stores at the end of 2008, the number was down 42.3 percent since the end of 2005. During the same period, combined Ford-Lincoln-Mercury outlets grew 22.7 percent, to 912.
Ford did not say how many L-M only stores it has in the top 50 markets.
When Ford began its dealership consolidation push in 2006, Ford-Lincoln-Mercury stores were primarily in rural markets. But to trim dealership numbers and advance the business case for consolidation, Ford began allowing metropolitan dealers to dual Ford and Lincoln Mercury.
While much of the dualing is happening in the smaller metro areas, joint Ford-Lincoln-Mercury dealerships have been allowed in some of the top 50 markets, too.
With more stores selling all three brands, the case for needing Mercury to support Lincoln Mercury dealers has diminished, Farley acknowledged. That may mean fewer Mercury nameplates are needed. Said Farley: "It's becoming less important because we're purposely, in our consolidation efforts, really working hard to have the representation of Lincoln and Mercury as part of the Ford dealer."