With the franchise count falling and sales tumbling last year, average throughput fell by 77 vehicles to 450 vehicles — a 15 percent drop. Throughput came in at its lowest level since 2011, when vehicle sales per franchise averaged 405.
U.S. light-vehicle sales, excluding Tesla, fell 15 percent to 14.4 million in 2020, according to the Automotive News Research & Data Center. New-vehicle sales were hammered early in 2020 as the pandemic unfolded and many showrooms across the country were shuttered for weeks. Sales rebounded later in the year, though inventory shortages limited the rally.
The census ranks 41 brands for throughput, a key barometer in measuring brand health.
Longtime throughput leader Toyota remained atop the rankings, though its average new-vehicle sales per franchise dropped 12 percent to 1,483. Honda and Lexus remained at No. 2 and No. 3, with Honda slipping 17 percent and Lexus 8.1 percent.
Nissan tumbled four spots in the throughput ranking to No. 8, as its average fell 33 percent. Nissan's sales dropped by a third last year, and its franchise count slipped by three.
Subaru moved up a spot in throughput rankings to No. 4, while Mercedes-Benz and BMW also each moved up a spot to No. 5 and No. 6, respectively. Kia jumped two spots to No. 7, while Hyundai fell one spot to No. 9. Ford remained 10th, the lone domestic brand in the top 10.
Only five brands — Mazda, Volvo, Alfa Romeo, Bentley and Aston Martin — saw average throughput gains last year. Mazda's rose by 10 vehicles to 505, while Volvo's increased by 14 vehicles to 391. Sixteen brands rose in the throughput rankings, 13 fell and 12 were unchanged.
The biggest franchise count gainer last year was Jaguar, which added five, followed by Land Rover with four and Kia with three. A Jaguar-Land Rover spokeswoman said franchise growth for both brands came through new points.
Among the top decliners, Lincoln dropped 52 franchises, and its companion brand Ford fell by 28. Chevrolet shed 16 franchises, and Genesis and Mitsubishi each lost 15.
Ford's standalone dealership count rose by 24 to 2,400, while Lincoln's held steady at 139. Mitsubishi added 23 standalone stores last year, expanding to 240. Mitsubishi spokeswoman Lauren Ryan said some dealers have separated their Mitsubishi stores from other brands.
"Our dealer team has also been focused on establishing exclusive Mitsubishi dealerships across the country," Ryan wrote in an email.
Mazda, which dropped by nine franchises last year, gained 13 exclusive stores. Mazda spokeswoman Tamara Mlynarczyk said the brand has 182 dealerships operating in retail evolution facilities — the brand's updated facility design. That was up by about 60 year over year as of the end of February, she said. More stores are converting to these facilities, all of which are exclusive.
Mazda also is working to bolster its dealer network, Mlynarczyk said, and dealers "see opportunities and invest in Mazda by purchasing existing, underperforming and sometimes nonexclusive" dealerships and convert those into retail evolution stores.
Urban Science, in its annual automotive franchise report, found U.S. new-vehicle dealerships dipped 0.2 percent or by 38 to 18,157 as of Jan. 1. It was the second straight year the firm found that both dealership count and throughput fell.
The firm said the number of franchises also declined by 226, or 0.7 percent, to 31,959.
Phillips said the decline in dealerships as tracked by Urban Science last year was smaller than the 99-store drop recorded in 2019. He expects throughput to rebound in 2021 with new-vehicle sales predicted to rise.
As for dealership counts in 2021, "it's going to be another stable year," Phillips said.
Michael Martinez, Hannah Lutz and Vince Bond Jr. contributed to this report.