The number of U.S. auto dealerships rose for the second straight year in 2012 and is projected to increase for “the next few years,” reversing a decades-long pattern, a study says.
The U.S. dealership count increased by less than 1 percent, to 17,851 as of Jan. 1, 2013, from 17,767 a year earlier, Urban Science, a retail consulting company, said. Last year’s rise followed a 0.5 percent increase in 2011.
“In the past, a 2 percent dealership annual decline was considered normal,” John Frith, vice president of retail channel solutions at Urban Science, which has been compiling the data since 1990, said in a statement. “Barring unexpected economic changes, network growth of 0.1 to 0.2 percent will become the new benchmark.”
The average vehicle sales per dealership in the United States rose 13 percent last year to a record 812 units. That echoed a 13 percent increase in U.S. light-vehicle sales for the year.
If auto sales in 2013 reach 15 million, as several forecasts predict, average sales per dealership will climb to 839, Urban Science said. Sales per dealership, a measure also called throughput, is a key guide to dealerships’ profitability.
The numbers were released as part of Urban Science’s 2012 Automotive Franchise Activity Report.
“While there are fewer dealerships today than a decade ago, they are larger and should be able to easily manage the increased sales and throughput,” Firth said. “We have a good balance of sales and stores, allowing for fewer incentives and increased dealership profitability — key reasons why it’s critical to maintain a right-sized network.”
The increases in the last two years follow a 4 percent drop in 2010 and an 8 percent decline in 2009, when General Motors and Chrysler shed stores as part of their U.S.-steered bankruptcies.
Chrysler was the largest contributor to the 2011 gain, adding 135 Fiat dealerships and 50 Chrysler-Dodge-Jeep stores.
Texas, California and Florida added the most new stores last year, with increases of 25, 24 and 11 dealerships, respectively.