Dealership count up, throughput falls in ’22

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The number of U.S. dealerships rose slightly in 2022 after dropping two years in a row, though new-vehicle sales per franchise, or throughput, declined nearly 9 percent amid reduced new-vehicle availability, according to Automotive News’ annual dealership census.

Automotive News counted 18,271 franchised dealerships on Jan. 1, up 0.4 percent from a year earlier. The number of new-vehicle franchises fell 0.2 percent to 31,366 between Jan. 1, 2022, and Jan. 1, 2023.

Each franchise on average sold 425 new vehicles last year, an 8.8 percent decline, according to the census.

The census ranks 42 brands for throughput, a measure of dealership network health. This year’s census was the first to include Polestar, which had 29 franchises as of Jan. 1.

Ford Motor Co. shed 35 dealerships last year — a 1 percent decline. The Ford brand gained 19 exclusive stores but shed 31 franchises, to land at 2,967 franchises at the beginning of 2023. Lincoln, which lost 54 franchises, shed four exclusives last year. It had 637 franchises on Jan. 1.

Ford spokeswoman Cathleen O’Hare, in an email to Automotive News, said some Lincoln dealers voluntarily resigned “at multi-franchised dealerships to improve the customer experience and focus on one franchise,” which fueled the rise in Ford exclusives. She said Ford had no comment on the decrease in Ford franchises.

Across the industry, the number of exclusive dealerships rose 1.6 percent to 12,151. The number of import-badged exclusive dealerships jumped 2 percent last year.

Other brands seeing double-digit gains in standalone stores included Hyundai with an increase of 80, Mazda with 21 more, and Kia and Mitsubishi each adding more than 10. Jeep also grew its exclusive-store count by more than double from a year earlier.

Overall U.S. light-vehicle sales through dealerships fell 9.3 percent to 13.4 million vehicles, according to the Automotive News Research & Data Center. The tally excludes Tesla, Lucid, Rivian and Karma.

Throughput fell for 30 franchised brands and increased for 11, not counting Polestar which was new to the list.

Mitch Phillips, global director of data at Urban Science, a consulting firm thatalso tracks dealership counts, attributed the industry’s decline in throughput not only to inventory shortages, but also the economy and consumer perception of the economic conditions to come.

Toyota, which has long held the top spot for throughput, again was No. 1 with 1,494 vehicles sold per franchise, though also down 8.8 percent from a year ago, as its inventory was constrained.

Lexus again finished No. 2, with throughput of 1,060 vehicles, a 15 percent slide. Its dealers had record low inventory throughout most of 2022.

BMW’s throughput declined 1.6 percent to 947 vehicles but climbed one spot to third. Honda tumbled five spots to No. 8, with throughput of 826 vehicles, down 33 percent. Throughput at Acura fell 35 percent to 378 vehicles.

Honda and Acura spokesman Chris Naughton called the two brands “restrained only by limited inventory, due to industrywide supply chain challenges.” But Naughton said American Honda Motor started 2023 with more than double the inventory it had a year earlier.

Mercedes-Benz, the only brand in the top 10 to see throughput rise, jumped four spots to No. 4. Its throughput rose 6.4 percent to 916 vehicles. Kia rounded out the Top 5, rising from No. 6 despite a 2.2 percent decline in throughput to 892 vehicles. It swapped places with Subaru, which fell to No. 6. The rest of the Top 10 retained their positions: Hyundai at 7, Nissan at 9 and Audi at 10.

Cadillac dealers sold 240 new vehicles per franchise, up 45 percent for the industry’s largest percentage gain.Cadillac’s dealer network included 564 franchises Jan. 1, up two from the previous year. Cadillac shed 313 franchises in 2021 amid a buyout program for dealers ahead of the brand’s EV push.

“Our sales momentum is due to many factors — outstanding product, breakthrough advertising and exceptional customer experience via a leaner, fitter Cadillac dealer network,” Cadillac spokesman Michael Albano said in an email to Automotive News.