As recently as last summer, five Lincoln dealerships dotted the 140-mile stretch of Florida's affluent Treasure Coast between West Palm Beach in the south and Merritt Island near the Kennedy Space Center.
Today there is just one: Wallace Lincoln in Fort Pierce, owned by Wallace Automotive Group of Stuart, Fla., 15 miles away. Nobody is more amazed at how rapidly the landscape changed than owner Bill Wallace.
"Was I surprised those other guys threw in the towel? I was stunned. I'm thrilled but stunned," says Wallace, who consolidated his two stores into one as part of the downsizing. Three other dealers returned their franchises to Ford Motor Co., which offered settlements.
The rapid drop in Lincoln's dealer count in that east Florida market is part of a nationwide trend that has left surviving dealers such as Wallace with opportunities and challenges.
Lincoln's national dealership consolidation rolled out over the past couple of years, picking up after the automaker said in June 2010 that it would kill the Mercury brand. Lincoln has exceeded its downsizing goals so far.
Lincoln says that by the end of 2011, it had cut 35 percent of its dealers in the top 130 luxury markets. Lincoln started with about 500 dealerships in those markets. Now there are fewer than 325.