The Chrysler and Volkswagen brands increased sales and raised their average sales per franchise last year by about a third, even as they added franchises.
Those percentage increases in sales per store -- 36 percent for Chrysler and 32 percent for VW -- were the largest among mainstream brands last year and were far ahead of the 15 percent average industry increase.
Sales per franchise matter because higher sales mean higher profits and a healthier overall industry. Most, though not all, brands are raising sales per franchise by holding the number of franchises steady.
In 2012, the industrywide number of franchises was essentially unchanged, dropping by just 69, or less than half a percentage point, to 31,376, according to Automotive News' annual dealership census.
Meanwhile, U.S. new-vehicle sales rose 13 percent to 14,492,398 units, lifting the average number of sales per franchise by 60 units, to 465.
John Frith, a vice president at Urban Science, a retail consulting company in Detroit, said that although there are fewer dealerships than there were a decade ago, the current balance of sales and dealerships is good. Dealerships, in general, are larger and easily can handle the increase in sales, he said.
But because profits are tied to throughput, he cautioned that auto companies must be careful not to add or drop too many dealerships.
The Chrysler brand added 55 franchises last year and sold 39 percent more new cars and light trucks. Though the brand's throughput of 137 units per franchise is still far short of the industry average, Chrysler climbed closer to that average, raising per-franchise sales by 36 units, or 36 percent, from the previous year.
The rise in Chrysler brand franchises comes as Chrysler Group has pushed all of its dealers to sell all of its brands. Currently, 91 percent of dealerships that sell Chrysler brand vehicles also sell the Dodge, Jeep, and Ram brands, a spokesman said.
The Volkswagen brand, which added 20 franchises last year, sold 722 units per outlet last year, an increase of 32 percent, and the brand boosted its U.S. sales 35 percent.