By on May 10, 2011

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.

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57 Comments on “San Francisco Loses Last Domestic Dealership...”


  • avatar
    djoelt1

    I live across the Bay in a community more San Francisco than San Francisco and I just bought a (used) Ford. Our other cars are Honda (soon to be sold), VW (soon to be sold), and BMW. We bought these other cars in 1996, 2001, and 2003. All were bought for high fuel economy for the necessary functionality (purely functional, no ego or style involved). Domestics were non competitive in these segments when we bought all these cars, and only became competitive in these segments in the last few years. And our buying habits are typical of our area and SF as evidenced by all the cars parked on the streets around us. Before buying the Ford, our three cars were among the top 5 most common in the area.

    Detroit has only itself to blame here, after decades of making cars that don’t serve the needs of the population. We have narrow streets and small parking spots. We tread as lightly as we can on the environment. So if you want us to use your products to move around, make some for us.

  • avatar
    NulloModo

    While it might have been the last one in San Francisco proper, a quick google maps search shows 8 other Ford dealers in the greater bay area from San Jose to Vallejo.

    San Francisco is not only a poor representation of the US at large, it isn’t even indicative of the California coast. The largest volume US Ford dealer is Galpin Ford located in Los Angeles, CA.

    Finally, regarding the MKZ hybrid, show me any car offered with both hybrid and traditional ICE powertrains where the hybrid model accounts for more than 25% of the sales.

    • 0 avatar
      CJinSD

      True. I wonder if the GM dealership would have prospered had they hasted another year or two, seeing as GM went from being the car of patriots to the car company of progressives. I live in San Diego. Based on what I see here, I wouldn’t be surprised if Galpin sells thousands of full sized trucks, SUVs, and Mustangs convertibles(rentals). Privately owned American cars are scarce here, but there are no shortage of pickup trucks for both commercial and private use and there were plenty of domestic SUVs during the good years.

      • 0 avatar
        NulloModo

        I know Galpin does an incredible amount of lease business. When Ford pulled out of leasing for a moment during the darkest days of carmegeddon they still had special lease programs running in select markets, and SoCal was one of them, due in no small part to dealerships like Galpin that drive a majority of their business through leasing and re-leasing vehicles.

    • 0 avatar
      HoldenSSVSE

      So true. Only in San Francisco do they have smug parties that they drive to in their Prii and take turns smelling their own farts. Ahhhhhhh, what a lovely vintage. I hear they are catching on in Seattle.

      The above was satire. If you were offended I suggest getting a life and trying some mild drugs like a beer or some clove cigarettes. The satire is not my own, but from South Park. All further complaints should be sent to Comedy Central. If you think South Park is a waste of time, the next time you’re chillin’ to some Mozart in your Prius, remember he was considered the Eminem of his time. Oh the horrors!

    • 0 avatar
      OhMyGoat

      Cornelius Ford was a long established dealer in Vallejo, CA. They moved the operation from a downtown location to a brand new facility in the city’s (then new) “Auto Mall” strip just as the economy tanked and closed in less than a year. The location was recently taken over by a Toyota dealer which moved from a block away.

  • avatar
    tparkit

    “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…”

    Yup.

    http://www.sfweekly.com/2009-12-16/news/the-worst-run-big-city-in-the-u-s/1/

    • 0 avatar
      CJinSD

      One must wonder how out of touch the majority of voters were with the composition and ideology of the Obama regime when they voted for them then.

      • 0 avatar
        mike978

        Why did this have to go from the last domestic dealership leaving SF to SF being poorly run (that link was very illuminating and depressing) to Obama? I live in NC – and we voted for Obama – not exactly west coast liberals.
        Since SF doesn`t like domestic cars I assume you will now because the enemy of your enemy is your friend!

  • avatar
    djoelt1

    The BMW was a 1995 M3 Lightweight purchased in 2001 and is our date/track car. The 2003 (purchased used in 2006) is a Passat wagon which was our family (of 5) car – had to have a large luggage space. Got better mileage than any other vehicle with 40 cubic feet of luggage space. What was the domestic competitor to the M3 in 1995? What was the domestic competitor to the Passat (30+mpg highway) in 2003? What was the domestic competitor to the Honda Civic in 1996?

    • 0 avatar
      geeber

      I’m glad that you can afford a “track car,” but having one in the first place hardly represents “treading as lightly as possible” on the environment.

      And many GM cars with the 3.8 V-6 easily got 30+ mpg on the highway (my parents’ 1999 Buick Park Avenue achieved this regularly) while being more reliable than the Passat as well. It easily seated five passengers, and had plenty of luggage space.

      And, for reliability purposes, a 1996 Ford Escort was actually an excellent car, as it was based on a Mazda platform that had all of the bugs eliminated by that point.

      • 0 avatar
        djoelt1

        The track car was a daily driver when I married. Spouse brought the Honda to our marriage – I did not choose it. The 3.8 was refined into a great engine but it wasn’t in a wagon that had 40 cu ft of luggage space. The luggage space in the Passat was sufficient for our family of 5 to go on vacation with a doublestroller and two small bikes – all crammed in the back. Luggage space is twice the size of the largest sedan trunk. Passat reliability sucks of course and I knew that before hand.

    • 0 avatar
      MikeAR

      The Lightweight is a great car, how do you like it on the track and how competitive is it with newer cars?

      • 0 avatar
        djoelt1

        It’s a delight to drive on the track; the lower weight makes a significant difference. It’s more nimble than the regular model. It was quite competitive with newer cars until the latest generation of Corvettes, BMWs, and Porsches. It was certainly competitive for 10-12 years after it was built, a testament to BMW engineers. I can usually hustle it around the track faster than most other driver/car combos. Gets 30 mpg to and from the track no less. I’m considering a 2004 Z06 now.

    • 0 avatar
      mnm4ever

      Now that you explain it, it makes more sense. The way you worded your original comment made it seem like you listed the years in order, and didnt specify that you purchased used cars. However, I think I have your answers:

      1. Corvette – Either in 1995 or 2001, I think thats all that could keep up with it (or try to).
      2. Tahoe or Expedition – well that IS what the domestics wanted everyone to buy in 2003 (and 2006). Fuel economy?? nah…
      3. Cavalier – I know, I bought a Civic too.

    • 0 avatar
      gessvt

      Go back and read your first post. You’re shooting holes right through it.

  • avatar

    Nullo is quite right. Why pay SF taxes on purchases when you can get the same products on the Peninsula or in the East Bay? Last time I checked they were leviing 12.5%. And people talk about money on the hood and haggline with dealer vultures. Well, if you buy a car in SF, you leave that hood money for sure. I even stopped getting ethnic snacks there. SF is a giant Disneyland with crime, a place to visit and to blow money on overpriced entertainment and dining.

    • 0 avatar
      Vetteman

      Sales tax on a car purchase in California is based on your home address so where you purchase a new car does not determine the sales tax rate . I sold cars in the east bay and the advantage we had was lower facilities costs and lower city taxes and fees that made our expenses lower than a San Francisco dealer. What really has hurt SF dealers even the imports is the affluent population migration to the suburbs where they also took their shopping patterns. I lived my whole life in the east bay and would never consider going to the city to shop for anything. Bridgetolls , parking , traffic and the battle to get into the city. Even when you get there good luck finding parking.

      • 0 avatar
        jkross22

        CA car buyers…. get a po box in Oregon and take delivery there.

      • 0 avatar
        SunnyvaleCA

        “CA car buyers…. get a po box in Oregon and take delivery there.”

        You’ll get nailed when you try to register the car in California. What you really need to do is claim permanent residence outside of California, in which case you might as well choose Nevada so that you don’t have to pay state income tax on income not specifically earned in the state.

    • 0 avatar

      Thanks for setting me straight regarding the tax on cars. It seemed incoceivable that the city would not put its grubby little hands on a transaction that occured within its limits.

  • avatar
    carlisimo

    I work in San Francisco, but live outside of it. Even if I lived in it, I’d go to a suburb if I wanted to visit a dealership. How else would you test drive anything? 15mph on Van Ness isn’t going to tell you anything about a car.

    I am seeing Fiestas in the area. If only they had arrived sooner.

    • 0 avatar
      SV

      I’ve read California is one of the Fiesta’s best markets, not too surprising really.

    • 0 avatar
      GiddyHitch

      “Van Ness isn’t going to tell you anything about a car.”

      It will tell you how it would handle roads in a third-world country. After the civil war.

      • 0 avatar
        Zackman

        “Van Ness isn’t going to tell you anything about a car.”

        Oh yes it did! It taught me that drum brakes in my old ’64 Chevy fade terribly on those hills, especially when I finally managed to get the car stopped halfway through an intersection that put me smack in the middle of Van Ness Avenue in August, 1970, with a car full of buddies in town for the day!

  • avatar
    jj99

    Very few new Ford products in Southern California and in the Boston area. I keep telling you.

    Now, Nullo is going to tell me about the huge Ford dealer in the san fernando valley. Big deal. That big Ford dealer is small compared to some of the super huge Toyota and Honda dealers. Longo Toyota? Now, that is a big dealer.

    • 0 avatar
      NulloModo

      Without having any hard numbers I can’t really substantiate or refute your claims, but it’s safe to say from most empirical evidence that you are prone to a bit of hyperbole. Do import model cars (i.e. sedans, coupes, non-trucks) outsell domestic vehicles of the same category in certain markets? Yes. Is the ratio 100:1, 10:1 or even 2:1 import to domestic – I’d seriously doubt it. Nationwide the car numbers of the Fusion and Malibu are getting closer and closer to the levels of the imports, so it stands to reason that the gap is narrowing in import-stronghold markets as well. Also, at the end of the day is the San Francisco market any more important than the Minneapolis market?

      The local Toyota dealer does sell more vehicles per month than my Ford dealer does. However, while there is only that one Toyota dealer in the immediate market area, there are three Ford dealers. When you add the sales of the three Ford dealers serving the same area as that Toyota dealer, the Ford numbers come out ahead. Toyota still has a smaller dealer network compared to GM or Ford (and in some cases that may be a good thing, both Ford’s and GM’s dealer network suffers from a bit of bloat), so it wouldn’t be surprising if the largest Toyota stores outsell the largest Ford stores. The real number to look at would be the sales of vehicles per market area regardless of number of dealers.

    • 0 avatar
      SVX pearlie

      Living in SoCal, there are more imports than domestics. You can’t shake a stick without hitting a Bimmer, Honda or Toyota.

      That said, I think GM is doing OK here. I see a good number of Caddies (partly because the origami sheetmetal is very distinctive against all the jellybeans, partly because people buy Caddies to be seen). *Huge* numbers of huge Lambda and Theta CUVs – they’re in every parking lot. Moderate & increasing number of Buicks & Chevies, being more deliberately nondescript. New Cruze & Volt are both good, stick out from the pack. New LaCrosse is simply magnificent to see, like a big Jag.

      I see a *LOT* of F-series trucks. I think I’ve seen close to half-dozen Raptors, in particular, a red modded one stands out in my mind. OTOH, I rarely see Lincolns, but that is to be expected from their dismal & shrinking sales numbers. The rest of the Ford/Lincoln lineup makes & leaves NO visual impression.

    • 0 avatar
      Ion

      you must stick to the less afluent areas of boston. Newbury is litered with Explorer/Expeditions

    • 0 avatar
      Scoutdude

      Facts are that the Toyota group dominates CA mostly due to the Socal market area. But Ford isn’t doing too shabby. Toyota has been sliding for the last 3 or so years while Ford has gained share. Overall the domestics market share has been rising for the last 3 years or so while the Japanese have lost ground mainly to the domestics but the Koreans are taking some for themselves. http://www.cncda.org/secure/GetFile.aspx?ID=2059

  • avatar
    Zackman

    Ahhh…I long for the days of Spartan Dodge and Jay Brown & Co.! The “Price Slasher”, too! A huge Dodge dealer off 101 in San Jose a long, long time ago.

    If I lived in SFO, I sure wouldn’t want to have to drive there a lot – I’ve been there several times, and it ain’t no picnic! Certainly I’d own nothing larger than a Malibu or Fusion. A Cruze or Focus would be ideal.

  • avatar
    threeer

    The REAL irony here is that a majority of auto manufacturers listed above as big sellers in SF actually do quite a bit of manufacturing…right here in the US of A! But then I guess we’re not going to go down the road of debating what is “American-made” are we?

  • avatar

    Mark “MKF” Fields

    hahahahaha

  • avatar

    @djoelt1: “No style or ego involved” but you own an M3 and considering a Corvette? I don’t care what you drive, but quit preaching already.

  • avatar
    VanillaDude

    San Francisco is an absolutely delightful place to spend time in. It is a Disneyworld ran by committee. Many folks there feel that they are culturally superior to non-San Franciscans. Being geographically located as it is, the City is physically separated from the US except for the penninsula, but unlike New York City, San Francisco is no longer a gateway city welcoming teeming sweaty immigrants who believe in sweat equity. It used to be.

    San Francisco is now an urban enclave of the Tragically Hip living off of the work done by San Franciscans of decades ago. Instead of fishermen on Cannery Row, they have sharkskin suited lawyers off Market Street. Instead of booming shipyards, San Francisco now has booming street parties. The City used to be a real city, but is now a delightful boutique. Charming – oh so charming! – but unsustainable in the long run, as we are seeing. Can it pull the plug on all of life’s responsibilities and survive? History says no.

    So naturally, the last car anyone is going to want to drive in San Francisco is an American one. Because the last place a growing number of San Franciscans wish to live in is the United States.

    I don’t blame them. When I was an irresponsible single guy I shunned growing up too. It would be great if everyone could live like folks in San Francisco! Fortunately I discovered how cool it is to be a man, husband and father. And I drive American – how about that?

    • 0 avatar
      SV

      San Francisco’s population is something like 800,000, I doubt you can really speak to the work ethic and maturity of even a tiny fraction of them. I also doubt you can extrapolate such from, say, voting records.

    • 0 avatar
      GiddyHitch

      San Francisco is indeed a poorly run city with a social welfare and NIMBY mentality to the detriment of civic progress. Unsustainable? I’m not so sure given that SF functions as a bedroom community for Silicon Valley and now BioTech workers further down the peninsula. I will say that it is entrepreneurial in spirit and a meritocracy for the most part and this extends to cars as well. Since no one’s livelihood nor that of their local family/friends and neighbors is directly tied to any particular automobile manufacturer (save possibly Tesla), they are free to pick the vehicle that most genuinely appeals to them. Like the greater Bay Area, this is overwhelmingly likely to be a Japanese or German make now that the salad days of the full size SUV are over. Having said that, it is still an automotive meritocracy (outside of the monied status chasers) and that’s why we’re seeing more Korean cars on the road and why I expect to see more domestics like the Fiesta, Focus, Cruze, etc. in the coming years.

      To read and comment on a blog like TTAC and then boast that you “drive American” is confounding to me. Cognitive dissonance much?

  • avatar
    silverkris

    Gosh. Nostalgia here. I grew up remembering the Ellis Brooks Chevrolet jingle…the dealership (at the corner of Bush and Van Ness)still exists but they sell Nissans now. They were the last remaining Chevy dealer in SF. I think there was another one called Les Vogel but they moved to the suburbs years ago.

    Hughson Ford was one of the first Ford dealerships in the country but they closed up about 30 years ago.

    The old George Olsen Cadillac dealership on Van Ness is a AMC cinema now.

    I’d chalk the trend up to high land costs in the city and lack of parking + trend towards automotive superstores that has shoved more and more auto dealers out to the burbs. Only the ones that can sell high-value vehicles or keep up the volume will survive.

    it’s the same thing in NYC – you see any or many car dealers in Manhattan?

    • 0 avatar
      obbop

      Seeeee Ellis Brooks today for your Chevrolet… corner of Bush and Van Ness.

      He’s gotta’ deal for you oh what a deal for you… A Chevy deal that you will like the best.

      Sniff.

      I STLL miss Herb Caen’s column.

      He was a real pro.

      Sniff.

      Read Herb and devour a Red’s Java House double cheese burger on a sourdough roll.

      Sob.

      But…. so MUCH MUCH MUCH is not missed.

      Rather nice to not be shot at for wearing the wrong-colored attire or for inadvertently displaying what another interprets as possible disrespect.

      Comprende, esse?

    • 0 avatar
      WRohrl

      Les Vogel was Chrysler/Dodge/Jeep and moved to Burlingame, eventually sold to Lithia, and went out of business a couple of years ago. No loss there, IMO. Now that site in Burlingame is a booming Hyundai dealership that was started as an adjunct to a higher-end used car dealer (Cammisa) that used to sell new Alfas until ’94. They took on Hyundai around 10 years ago (weird, seeing Accents sharing showroom space with used Testarossas etc.) In hindsight it seems like a great move.

  • avatar
    55_wrench

    @ zackman:
    Wow, what a memory! One time he walked into the restaurant I worked in as a busboy, Wrangler jeans and aviator shades. He was a celeb then with all the TV commercials, but that day just wanted to hide in a corner and enjoy a Sunday brunch. Left his shades on the whole time.

    And then, there was Glenn Hartzheim, FTW

  • avatar
    Z71_Silvy

    Lincoln is not a luxury marque. They are an embarrassment to real luxury cars. Mediocre rebadges of mediocre appliances …with a touch of silver paint added in do not make luxury cars. Lincoln’s are a joke.

    PRODUCT is why Lincoln sales are terrible. Nothing else.

  • avatar
    obbop

    Oh… Was it KTVU that was channel 2 on the broadcast band dial?

    Was it Pat Montandan who aired the absolutely grooviest weather forecast I have ever seen?

    In my latter years in Californy I either watched NO TV or very very little.

    Sigh………..

    Before the HUGE influx of humanity, propelling the USA to over THREE-HUNDRED-MILLION folks California and the rest of the USA WAS much more fun.

    Just wait for a 1/2-billion to be here, then a billion.

    HAH HAH HAH HAH!!!!!!!!!!!!

    Revel in it.

    I’ll be DEAD long before then and gladly so.

    You younguns will never know whatcha’ missed.

    The past Eden-like?

    Nay!!!!!!!

    But the extra elbow room made MANY differences at MANY socio-economic levels.

    Now, depart the vicinity of my shanty or I may bite ye upon thine ankles ye varlets!!!

    • 0 avatar
      Zackman

      Obbop: I hear you. 40 years ago California was still considered the “promised land”. Being stationed at Beale AFB outside Marysville/Yuba City, I sure hated to leave in August 1973, but being too immature and goofing-off for four years and enjoying endless cruising in my ’64 Chevy, I had no choice but to return to STL and back to what I had left. That began a two-year mess in my life, but my dear wife-to-be changed all that!

      I still miss California, and we visit every so often, maybe this fall.

      • 0 avatar
        obbop

        Take reasonable precautions and use common-sense.

        Observe the prevalence and types of graffiti.

        Many changes at many levels along with the all-too-obvious extra humanity fill, filling, filling to the brim and shoving that which is natural aside.

        What used to be an enjoyable drive decades ago has become, to me, a nightmare.

        Have fun, however.

  • avatar
    gslippy

    If SF is equivalent to Antarctica for selling domestics, then why bother trying anymore? I hope some of the previous dealerships to leave were culled instead of starved to death by the mfrs.

  • avatar
    ponchoman49

    Selling Detroit products to Yuppie West Coast snobs is like trying to sell ice to an Eskimo.

  • avatar
    Wheely

    I guess I’m one of the “coastal elite”, whatever that means. Of the SoCal variety, LA west side. Not sure what’s so “elite” about that, this seems to be a pretty crowded area. Be that as it may: people in San Francisco are doing the same as what people in Santa Monica and surrounding areas are doing: buy, within their budgets, whatever they damn well please. That doesn’t sound very different than what people in say, Milwaukee, would do. Maybe different budgets, maybe different preferences, but the same principle.

    If the domestics don’t produce what people want to buy, then that that doesn’t reflect badly upon where they happen to live, it reflects badly upon the domestics for not having competitive offerings. Not even the People’s Republic of San Francisco, Santa Monica or whichever coastal enclave you want to single out, prescribes its citizens which cars they can/cannot buy.

    So I agree with Edward’s point: if Detroit wants to sell their product here, they better connect with what folks want. Simple as that. Otherwise we’re doomed to bail them out again, with our elitist California tax dollars.

    BTW: Can’t believe I’m standing up for NoCal ;)

    • 0 avatar
      obbop

      The dividing line is planned to be placed in the Bakersfield area.

      I say give you SoCal folks everything Modesto south.

      I will take a couple square miles along the coast abutting Oregon.

      Get outta’ my redwoods, heathens.


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