The number of U.S. dealerships declined for the first year since 2013, though by just 0.3 percent, while industry sales throughput increased slightly, Automotive News' annual dealership census found.
The dealership count fell by 52 stores to 18,275 as of Jan. 1, while the number of new-vehicle franchises also dipped, by 0.5 percent, or 172 franchises, to 32,099. Slightly lower General Motors and Ford Motor Co. dealership and franchise counts largely contributed to the declines.
Fiat Chrysler Automobiles added nine dealerships last year, and its overall franchise count also grew beyond Jan. 1, 2018, estimated figures. FCA spokesman Jeff Bennett said the automaker has been working with dealers to add standalone Jeep and Ram stores, including one Ram and 12 Jeep locations that opened last year.
That initiative launched in late 2017 to create a unique customer experience for buyers of vehicles from those brands. The 2018 standalone additions came from existing franchises pulled out of Chrysler-Dodge-Jeep-Ram dealerships to their own buildings, Bennett said. The company aims to increase those figures by another 50 to 60 standalone showrooms by the end of 2019.
Across the industry, exclusive franchise outlets increased last year by 34 to 11,960 franchises. Import-only exclusives continue to rise, up 20 from a year ago, while import-only dualed stores dropped by 38.