Volkswagen and Infiniti, in aggressive quests to gain sales and market share, added franchises last year, each raising the franchise count by 4 percent. But their U.S. sales fell, so average sales per franchise, or throughput, tumbled.
The VW brand's sales slid 7 percent, and sales per franchise dropped 10 percent. Infiniti's sales dipped 3 percent, slicing its throughput by 5 percent.
Overall U.S. new-vehicle sales rose 8 percent in 2013, while the number of new-vehicle franchises was up by less than 1 percent.
Throughput matters, says Tom Libby, an auto analyst with IHS Automotive.
"When your throughput is higher, your profits are higher, your dealers are happier," says Libby. "They're spending money on the facility and they're hiring people so your whole retail network is stronger."
Last year some brands added a few franchises and others let attrition take its course, but changes in the number of franchises generally were modest. The overall number of new-vehicle dealerships and franchises was flat, according to the exclusive annual dealership census compiled by the Automotive News Data Center.
As of Jan. 1, the number of new light-vehicle dealerships in the United States increased 0.6 percent from a year earlier to 17,875. The number of franchises edged up 0.3 percent to 31,464.
A franchise is an agreement that gives a dealer the right to sell a particular brand of new vehicles. A dealership is the building in which one or more of those vehicle brands are sold.