San Francisco Loses Last Domestic Dealership

Edward Niedermeyer
by Edward Niedermeyer

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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  • Ponchoman49 Ponchoman49 on May 11, 2011

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

  • Wheely Wheely on May 11, 2011

    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 ;)

    • Obbop Obbop on May 11, 2011

      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.

  • SCE to AUX Good summary, Matt.I like EVs, but not bans, subsidies, or carbon credits. Let them find their own level.PM Sunak has done a good thing, but I'm surprised at how sensibly early he made the call. Hopefully they'll ban the ban altogether.
  • SCE to AUX "Having spoken to plenty of suppliers over the years, many have told me they tried to adapt to EV production only to be confronted with inconsistent orders."Lofty sales predictions followed by reality.I once worked (very briefly) for a key supplier to Segway, back when "Ginger" was going to change the world. Many suppliers like us tooled up to support sales in the millions, only to sell thousands - and then went bankrupt.
  • SCE to AUX "all-electric vehicles, resulting in a scenario where automakers need fewer traditional suppliers"Is that really true? Fewer traditional suppliers, but they'll be replaced with other suppliers. You won't have the myriad of parts for an internal combustion engine and its accessories (exhaust, sensors), but you still have gear reducers (sometimes two or three), electric motors with lots of internal components, motor mounts, cooling systems, and switchgear.Battery packs aren't so simple, either, and the fire recalls show that quality control is paramount.The rest of the vehicle is pretty much the same - suspension, brakes, body, etc.
  • Theflyersfan As crazy as the NE/Mid-Atlantic I-95 corridor drivers can be, for the most part they pay attention and there aren't too many stupid games. I think at times it's just too crowded for that stuff. I've lived all over the US and the worst drivers are in parts of the Midwest. As I've mentioned before, Ohio drivers have ZERO lane discipline when it comes to cruising, merging, and exiting. And I've just seen it in this area (Louisville) where many drivers have literally no idea how to merge. I've never seen an area where drivers have no problems merging onto an interstate at 30 mph right in front of you. There are some gruesome wrecks at these merge points because it looks like drivers are just too timid to merge and speed up correctly. And the weaving and merging at cloverleaf exits (which in this day and age need to all go away) borders on comical in that no one has a bloody clue of let car merge in, you merge right to exit, and then someone repeats behind you. That way traffic moves. Not a chance here.And for all of the ragging LA drivers get, I found them just fine. It's actually kind of funny watching them rearrange themselves like after a NASCAR caution flag once traffic eases up and they line up, speed up to 80 mph for a few miles, only to come to a dead halt again. I think they are just so used to the mess of freeways and drivers that it's kind of a "we'll get there when we get there..." kind of attitude.
  • Analoggrotto I refuse to comment until Tassos comments.