In a surprising swing after the severe cutback in U.S. dealerships during the recession, some automakers are again adding stores.
This year is shaping up to be the second in a row with an increase in the dealership count. But the expansion isn't likely to last.
Several large groups recently have been awarded new franchises -- "add points" in industry parlance -- or are in discussions with manufacturers about new points.
Dealerships are being added by Asian and European automakers with ambitious growth plans. New points also are coming from domestic automakers that lost representation in some key markets after thousands of dealerships went out of business during the recession or were terminated by General Motors and Chrysler during their bankruptcies.
Penske Automotive Group opened a Mini store and a Nissan/Infiniti dealership in March. AutoNation Inc. was awarded Mini, Chrysler and Jeep franchises during the first quarter. And Asbury Automotive Group executives said in April that the company may increase 2012 capital spending if add-point discussions come to fruition.
"We've got a number of them in the mill," Asbury CEO Craig Monaghan said. "I hope before we go a whole lot further, you'll see some of those come to life. It's broadly across the board. You're not seeing it concentrated with one brand or another."
Enough add points could open in 2012 to increase the overall U.S. dealership count for the second straight year, said John Frith, vice president of retail channel solutions for Urban Science, which advises automakers on dealership representation. That would be a notable turnabout from the steady declines of recent years.
The U.S. dealership count rose 1 percent in 2011, to 17,859 stores, according to the Automotive News Data Center. That's still a far cry from the days before the recession, when 21,461 U.S. dealerships were in operation at the beginning of 2008.
Frith called the potential two-year upswing a short-term correction.
"The economy has come back a little quicker than most of the manufacturers were anticipating," Frith said. "And so there's some sudden demand and some opportunity to cover some areas that they might not have good coverage on."