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Fiat drives up number of U.S. auto dealers
Consultant sees more sales per dealer in ’12


DETROIT — The number of U.S. auto dealerships rose in 2011 for the first time in 11 years, but the per-dealership sales average is expected to set a record high in 2012, dealer consultant Urban Science says.

Chrysler Group added the most dealerships, 135, for its parent Fiat SpA and 50 selling the main Chrysler Group brands: Dodge, Jeep and Chrysler.

Without the addition of Fiat dealerships, the number of U.S. dealerships would have fallen last year.

John Frith, vice president of Detroit-based Urban Science, said the increase in dealerships — by 0.6 percent, to 17,767 — is a sign that the major U.S. automakers have normalized operations after the 2008-2009 financial crisis and bankruptcies at General Motors Co. and Chrysler.

“We have a stabilized, right-sized dealership network,” Frith said. “Automakers and dealers are in a good, profitable position.”

Frith said that the expected number of cars sold per dealership should rise to a record of 785 in 2012 — up from 719 in 2011, 656 in 2010 and 564 in 2009, when U.S. auto sales fell to a 27-year low.

The 785 vehicles per dealership in 2012 is based on a forecast for U.S. auto-industry sales of 14 million by Paul Taylor, chief economist with the National Automobile Dealers Association. That would be up from 12.8 million vehicles sold in 2011.

Fiat, which sold a single model in the United States, the compact Fiat 500, had per-dealer sales of 146 cars, well below the industry average in 2011, Urban Science’s study showed.

Dealers of Toyota namesake cars and trucks had the highest per-dealer sales in 2011, an average of 1,126 vehicles, followed by Ford at 664 and Chevrolet at 579, Urban Science said.

Laggards included GM’s Buick franchises, which sold only 84 vehicles per dealer in 2011, and Ford’s Lincoln, at 87 vehicles per dealer. But while many Lincoln franchises are in standalone dealerships, most Buick franchises are paired with GMC truck franchises, which averaged sales of 226 per dealership, Urban Science found.

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