DETROIT -- The average U.S. dealership's new-vehicle sales fell in 2016 for the first time in seven years to 965, just one unit below the 2015 record, said Urban Science, a dealership consulting firm in Detroit.
Throughput -- the average number of vehicles sold per store -- had climbed from record to record in recent years because sales rose even as the number of dealerships held steady or inched higher. But in 2016, U.S. light-vehicle sales edged up 0.3 percent, while the number of U.S. dealerships rose 0.5 percent to 18,170 on Jan. 1, 2017, Urban Science data showed.
Mitchell Phillips, global director of data at Urban Science, said the half percent increase in dealership count in 2016 shows a responsible amount of store openings that is consistent with the past seven years.
"It seems like the relative stability we've seen in the past seven years appears to be normal," Phillips said. "And that might be setting the trend for the next several years."
Phillips said the new throughput was not "revolutionary" in terms of major negative change but "evolutionary" in that the dealership count is slowing to match vehicle sales growth.
"Stability" is Phillips' word of choice, as many analysts predict the light-vehicle market has peaked and total sales may decline slightly in 2017. He says an increase of even a small number of dealerships in 2017 coupled with a slowdown in sales will result in a slight drop in throughput this year.
Urban Science predicts a throughput of 963 for 2017.