DETROIT-- Galpin Motors in North Hills, Calif., edged out Bill Brown Ford of Livonia, Mich., in the late hours of last night to become the top-selling Ford dealer in the nation for the 20th consecutive year.
At 11:45 p.m. EST, Galpin pushed past Bill Brown and ended with 4,370 total vehicles sold, down from 2008’s 4,497. Bill Brown finished with 4,358, up from last year’s total of 4,010.
“We had a lot of fun,” said Bert Boeckmann, owner of Galpin Motors. “I got a call about two minutes after 9 p.m. [PST], and it was a cheering section.”
Boeckmann was amazed at what he saw in his dealership on the final day of the sales year -- which the industry considers concluded on the first business day after the New Year’s weekend.
“The crowded showroom reminded me of Galpin in its heyday,” he said. “We had a lot of people coming in saying they wanted to help us win and stay on top.
“What really pulled us out in this were the old-time customers.”
Bill Brown Ford was doing all it could to pull off the upset. But “it didn’t go as well as we’d like,” Sales Manager Mike Schrieber said. “We led for virtually most of the year.”
Yesterday, Schrieber had said it would be “a very proud moment” if the dealership were to take over the No. 1 spot. By this morning, he was left wondering how Galpin made the last-minute surge.
“That’s the million-dollar question,” Schrieber said. “That’s the reason they’ve been No. 1 for the last 20 years.”
Bill Brown Ford was more than 100 sales ahead of Galpin Motors on Wednesday, Dec. 30, Schrieber said. At that same time, Bill Brown was about 30 cars ahead of Woodhouse Ford in Blair, Neb.
Woodhouse came in third with 4,099 total cars sold, up from 4,095 sold last year. It sold 514 in December.
“To be even considered in the mix with the big boys from the city was an honor,” said Woodhouse owner Jason Pittack. “We tried and did what we could. I’m pleased with what we did. They [Galpin] pulled a feather out of their cap yesterday.”
Yesterday morning, Schrieber said the dealer was “100 or so ahead” of Woodhouse. But he was wary to declare any sort of victory.
Meanwhile, on the other side of the country, Boeckmann was getting ready to write his concession letter.
“I left the dealership at 7 p.m. [PST], and we were seven units behind,” he said. “When I went home, I told my wife that I need to write a congratulatory note to send to them -- that’s how close it was.”
Customers on the bandwagon
In the weeks leading up to the end of the 2009 sales year, Bill Brown Ford sent fliers to its customers in suburban Detroit, urging them to help reach the goal.
“A lot of people like the idea” of the dealer being No. 1, Schrieber said yesterday. “It’s a pretty good story to have a dealer from Michigan have that honor.
“We left no stone unturned. I sent out an e-mail, put it in the paper and put it on TV.”
In its bid to be No. 1 for the 20th straight year, Galpin Motors was offering such incentives as an in-car portable DVD player, oil and filter changes for five years and 0 percent financing on almost every new Ford, according to its Web site.
“I think we were offering so much that it induced people to buy from us,” Boeckmann said.
Bill Brown was just “offering great deals,” said Schrieber. “Any customer that came and made an offer got a car,” he said. “We weren’t offering any additional products.”
Gains in a bad year
The Michigan dealership saw a 92 percent sales increase in December, Schrieber said. Bill Brown sold 632 Fords last month, compared with 330 in 2008.
Boeckmann said Galpin had one of the best Decembers that he’s seen in a while, doubling last year’s number to finish with 803 vehicles sold. The results dovetailed with a solid month for Ford Motor Co., which today reported a 33 percent gain in U.S. sales in December compared with December 2008. Ford sales fell 16 percent for the entire year compared with 2008.
But just how did the Michigan dealership come so close to usurping the title from the undisputed champion?
“One at a time,” Schrieber said, “and it almost worked.”
Another dealership to earn high sales in 2009 was Varsity Lincoln-Mercury in Novi, Mich., another Detroit suburb. It became the top-selling Lincoln-Mercury dealer in the nation after selling 2,555 total cars, according to General Sales Manager Dean Silver. The total was down from 2008’s number sold of 2,915. But last month’s 307 cars sold was almost a 40 percent increase from December 2008.
“We are pleased with the sales performance of our dealers across the country, as collectively they helped Ford post our first full-year (U.S.) market share gain since 1995,” Ford spokesman Steve Kinkade said. “Their strong performance has also delivered retail market share gains in 14 of the past 15 months.”