SALES OF EUROPEAN cars and light trucks rose 12.8 percent in the USA last year. The major brands kept pace with that gain in individual sales-per-dealer performances, an Automotive News Europe study discloses.
Sales per dealer is a distinctly American method of gauging performance. It measures the relative value of a franchise by showing the relationship between sales and the number of dealerships making those sales.
Mercedes-Benz was the giant among the Europeans last year. Its sales per outlet rose to 377 from 269 in 1996. Mercedes dealers sold an average of 63 more cars than they did the previous year, and the much-in-demand ML320 sport-utility brought the dealers an average of another 45 sales.
Thanks to the M-class, Mercedes regained the lead from BMW as the top-volume European franchise. BMW dealers did well themselves, adding 53 sales per dealer for a 1997 total of 361.
Porsche was the most improved, with sales per dealer almost doubling, thanks to the Boxster.
Only Land Rover dealers lost ground, as sales per outlet fell 14 units. Land Rover dealers in the USA had a good year in 1996, and faced new competition from the M-class in 1997.
The total number of franchises held steady for most European makes last year. Saab, down 29 outlets, showed the greatest change.
Volkswagen, with 599, has far more US dealers than any other European make. Next in line are Volvo, 352; BMW, 338; Mercedes-Benz, 319; and Audi, 262.
Volvo, Mercedes and Land Rover posted sizeable increases in their number of single-line dealerships last year. Volvo added 80 exclusives; Mercedes-Benz was up 55; and Land Rover added 20.
Automotive News Europe defines an exclusive dealership as one that has a showroom and service facilities devoted solely to a single make of cars or light trucks.
Most imported-vehicle companies in the USA are trying to increase their number of single-line dealerships. They are each brand's top-volume outlets. Also, showroom space is not shared, as it is in multi-line dealerships, and the sales staff gives its undivided attention to the single brand.