Joseph Thurby Jr. calls himself a survivor.
He has been a stand-alone Lincoln-Mercury dealer since 1971. But Thurby fears for his survival if he can't add a Ford or other franchise in the next few years.
"The only other answer is to find another franchise, any other type of franchise -- Suzuki, Honda -- you name it," Thurby said. "We're a dwindling group of dealers."
Like Thurby, many stand-alone Lincoln-Mercury dealers think their best hope for long-term survival is to add a Ford franchise. Without one, they worry that their dealerships won't have the volume and products to compete. To survive in the meantime, many dealers are cutting staff and inventory.
For its part, Ford Motor Co. is sticking to its plan to consolidate Lincoln-Mercury with Ford franchises in major metro areas. At the end of last year, Ford had 292 stand-alone Lincoln-Mercury stores, down from 357 at the end of 2008.
"We'll focus on the metro markets," Ken Czubay, Ford's vice president of U.S. sales and marketing, said last month at the National Automobile Dealers Association convention. "We'll continue to have a dialogue on an individual basis in the big cities on the stand-alone points."
In an online survey conducted by Automotive News, 38 of the 53 Lincoln-Mercury stand-alone dealers who responded -- 72 percent -- said they are at a competitive disadvantage with Ford-Lincoln-Mercury dealerships. The top reason cited: a lack of products to appeal to a wide customer base.
Ford Motor leaders are aware of Lincoln-Mercury dealers' product concerns. They declined to comment on the future product strategy. But last month Ford announced that it would add a small car, the Mercury Tracer.
The Tracer -- a Mercury name revived from the late 1990s -- is a derivative of the Ford Focus. It will go on sale next year, and many dealers say it will help.
Thurby expects to sell about 200 Tracers annually, which would nearly double his current annual sales of 250 new Lincoln and Mercury vehicles.
Ramon Alvarez, owner of Alvarez Lincoln-Mercury-Jaguar in Riverside, Calif., hopes to sell at least 50 Tracers next year. Now he sells about 150 new vehicles a year. He said he sold about 100 Tracers a year in the late 1990s.
Alvarez is working aggressively to acquire a Ford franchise, but he knows it's a long shot because a Ford store is right across the street from his dealership.
Asked whether he'd consider a different franchise, Alvarez said, "You gotta do what you gotta do."