DETROIT - European automakers in the US seem to be adopting the strategy of the US Big 3 makers. They are changing to fewer but larger dealerships.
In 1996, the number of European franchises in the US declined for the fourth year in a row. But sales per franchise rose significantly.
The 14 European makers that do business in the US had a combined total of 2,720 franchises on 1 January 1997. That was down 3.2 percent from the beginning of 1996.
But the Europeans averaged 190 sales per franchise in 1996, up from 161 in 1995 and 136 in 1994.
The sales-per-dealer upturn has been fueled by a satisfying increase in sales volume. Last year, the Europeans sold 526,328 new cars and light trucks in the US. That was 13 percent more than in 1995, and 1995 brought a gain of 14 percent over 1994.
Jaguar, Land Rover and Aston Martin were the only European makes to add franchises in 1996 - three for Jaguar, seven for Aston and 10 for Land Rover.
The other 11 European makers cut back their franchises. The losses ranged from one for Audi to 29 for Saab.
German cars have the largest European dealer delegation, with 1,735 franchises representing Audi, BMW, Mercedes-Benz, Porsche and Volkswagen. VW has the most: 597.
Sweden's Volvo and Saab account for 606 new-car franchises. UK carmakers have 332. The UK companies are Jaguar, Rolls-Royce/Bentley, Lotus, Aston Martin and Land Rover.
The final 47 franchises are for Italian sports car companies Ferrari and Lamborghini.