It was a good year to be a surviving domestic-brand dealership. In 2010, an 11 percent jump in industry sales and a third straight year of massive dealership closings boosted per-store sales -- and profits.
But the domestics still couldn't match the throughput of import-brand stores.
The Detroit 3 cut their franchise count by 22 percent last year, to 18,744, according to the annual Automotive News dealership census. In contrast, import brands cut their franchise count by just 24, to 10,565. Korean brands added 52 while Japanese brands cut 61.
For the surviving domestic brands, average new-vehicle sales at a Detroit 3 franchise jumped 32 percent in 2010, much higher than the 10 percent gain by import brands. The Japanese brands' collective average rose 8 percent.
The discontinued Saturn, Pontiac, Hummer and Mercury brands were phased out at different times in 2009 and 2010, and dealers were bailing on those brands both years. So the total leaves out apples-to-oranges year-on-year comparisons for those brands and counts only sales per franchise for surviving Detroit 3 brands.
Even so, the Detroit 3 sales-per-franchise figure was 266 units, well below imports' 601.
Buick had the biggest sales gain of any brand last year, up 52 percent to 155,389. And there were 2,124 Buick franchises on Jan. 1, 245 fewer than a year earlier.
Buick's sales per franchise soared 68 percent, the industry's highest percentage gain. But that was just to 69 units per franchise. So that improvement put it 31st out of 40 brands in sales per franchise -- the lowest mainstream brand not earmarked for extinction.
Lincoln, which lost sibling Mercury, didn't fare much better. It averaged 73 vehicles per franchise last year, up 9 percent, ranking 30th. Meanwhile, the Ford brand's 543 sales per franchise jumped 26 percent, or 113 units, to lift it to No. 9 for 2010, from No. 11 in 2009.
Little wonder that the Detroit 3 have turned to dualing as a way to boost store throughput. There used to be few Ford-Lincoln combos because Lincoln traditionally was paired with Mercury. But there were 895 Ford-Lincoln stores on Jan. 1, and they averaged 418 sales last year. There were only 231 Lincoln exclusives as of Jan. 1.
Dodge-Ram, which Chrysler counts as a single franchise, was Chrysler Group's highest-throughput franchise in 2010 with 280 sales on average. But the Chrysler Division had only 93 sales per franchise.
Among the 31 brands that posted an increase in sales per franchise last year, the Volkswagen brand ranked 18th, measured by the increase in units. Its sales rose 20 percent to 256,830, and franchises rose by eight to 588. The result: per-franchise sales grew 19.6 percent to 440.
The VW brand has an aggressive goal of 500,000 U.S. sales by mid-decade and 800,000 by about 2018. To make that happen, says VW of America President Jonathan Browning, VW needs more dealers.
VW spokesman Tony Cervone says VW has no timetable or target number for franchises.
Toyota Division, including Scion, has topped the sales-per-franchise list since 1996. But sales per franchise have dropped by a third in recent years as sales slumped because of the recession and its recall problems. Toyota's dealers sold 1,869 new units per franchise in 2007, dropping to 1,589 in 2008, 1,257 in 2009 and 1,238 in 2010.
Still, Toyota Division's 2010 figure was 177 more than its nearest competitor's, Honda Division. The decline was not the result of piling on more dealerships: Toyota Division added just one in 2010.
In contrast, Hyundai dealers built up sales-per-franchise steam in 2010 even as Hyundai added 13 franchises, bringing the total to 803. Per-franchise sales rose by 127, to 676, putting the brand at No. 5.
Dave Zuchowski, executive vice president of Hyundai Motor America, expects about 810 frachises by Jan. 1. He says Hyundai is focused on franchise throughput and profits. That includes improving current dealership facilities and replacing some dealers with others who are more committed to the brand.
In some markets in California and the South, he says, Hyundai is underdealered compared with Japanese rivals and will add stores.
"If you take the four counties that surround Los Angeles, there are 18 Hyundai dealers," Zuchowski says. "In that same area there are 45 Toyota dealers and 42 Honda dealers."
He adds: "We'd never want to be on a one-to-one basis, but our relationship to Toyota and Honda stores is much lower in California than in other markets. That's the type of thing we look at to determine where we need coverage."