Detroit’s brand managers, particularly those at the resurgent premium and luxury brands, have made West Coast sales a high priority as they seek to bring new buyers into once-moribund brands like Buick and Cadillac. California, in particular, is a huge market for luxury and premium cars, and it’s generally an edgier, more youthful market that has long shunned domestic offerings. Everything from “lifestyle events” to no-cost hybrid drivetrain options on Lincoln MKZ have been introduced in an effort to get California’s copious yuppie population interested in Detroit luxury, but the results just haven’t shown up yet. According to Ford’s Mark “MKF” Fields [via AN [sub]], only about 25% of MKZ buyers were tempted by the free-hybrid deal in March, and meanwhile, the San Francisco Chronicle reports that the Golden Gate City has just lost its final domestic auto dealership, a Ford/Lincoln store. Detroit may be California dreaming, but the Buicks and Lincolns of the world are still a long way from gaining ground in the West Coast.
Dennis Fitzpatrick, regional vice president of the California New Car Dealers Association explains to the Chronicle:
When you can sell 100 imports a month as opposed to 25 domestic, and what with the rents and real estate, it’s tough to make a U.S. car dealership pencil… San Francisco is not loyal to anything domestic; its allegiance is to anything but domestic
And he’s not kidding: thriving dealers selling Audi, Scion, Honda, VW, Mazda, BMW and Mercedes-Benz models all exist within a few blocks of the recently-closed Ford Lincoln store. Mike Hollywood, former sales manager at the last Chevrolet/Cadillac store in San Francisco, which closed 2 1/2 years ago, says he’s not surprised that Ford’s last San Francisco enclave has been shut down, noting that his former dealership is currently being renovated into
a flagship Nissan/Infiniti dealership [which Nissan says] “will represent one of the largest automobile retailing locations in the United States,”
Much of the rest of the country is used to quickly dismissing “San Francisco values” as being hopelessly out of touch with the rest of the country, but if Detroit wants to once again become a serious player (especially in the luxury/premium space), it has to do something to connect with California’s “coastal elite.” At this point, the situation couldn’t be much worse.