Richard Florida
by Richard Florida
Fri May 13th 2011 at 11:00am UTC

Last Car Dealership

San Francisco’s Lincoln Ford Mercury, the last domestic car dealership within the city’s 47.6 square mile area, abruptly shut its doors on May 1, according to The San Francisco Chronicle. “It’s a tough market. Imports have a much bigger share in San Francisco,” Dennis Fitzpatrick, owner of Concord Chevrolet and regional vice president of the California New Car Dealers Association told the paper. “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.”In a country and a state once hailed for its car culture this is quite a bellwether for a series of interrelated trends and forces that are reshaping our economy, society and cities.  For one thing, there’s the changing consumption patterns of the creative class (who are an even bigger, more unified buying force than the old working class).  Some may prefer smaller cars – Minis and the new Fiat 500s; others like their hybrid Priuses, still others go for electric-powered Volts and Teslas. Then there are those who still like the more conspicuous consumption of higher-status, higher-performance foreign cars – Porsches, Mercedes, Beamers and the like.  One thing is certain:  Fewer and fewer want to bear the old industrial age badge of the Big 3.   And of course there are the growing numbers who have given up the car  completely—who are moving into dense, walkable neighborhoods served by cable cars, where there is not a lot of room for (ever try to park in downtown San Francisco?) —and no need for –the Lincolns, Fords, and Mercurys, Buicks, Cadillacs, and Chevrolets that provided mobility and the ideal of freedom for their parents and grandparents.

But most of all, it seems to herald the death knell of Fordism, which Victoria De Grazia defined as “the eponymous manufacturing system designed to spew out standardized, low-cost goods and afford its workers decent enough wages to buy them.” And hopefully the beginnings of something new, more human scale, healthier, denser and better.

6 Responses to “Last Car Dealership”

  1. Brandon F Says:

    Richard – Will dealerships in other cities follow? This seems like it should be an indicator of the future for other car dealerships.

    What about other similar retail formats, including those that follow the “spew out standardized, low-cost goods and afford its workers decent enough wages to buy them” model? There seems to be a trend in retail that is moving away from this model.

    This is very interesting – Thank you for sharing.

  2. Michael Wells Says:

    It’s a sign of the times but with a few provisios. Auto dealerships take up a lot of real estate and land in San Francisco is sky high. Most auto dealers locate to the suburbs, like Concord Chevrolet quoted above. San Francisco is probably the West Coast’s hardest city to drive in, it was laid out before cars, has all those hills, crowded streets, hard to find parking, etc. More like Boston than the rest of California.

    And it’s not just SF. The few dealers still within the Portland city limits sell both American and foreign cars. But most domestic & foreign dealers are in the burbs here too. I’d guess this is true everywhere.

    The real question is, are total new car sales down in those metro areas?

  3. Wil Says:

    I first moved to San Francisco in 1975, and still divide my time between SF, and another location out of the country. SF is a difficult city for drivers because it is horribly crowded, and overpopulated, but I would never give up personal mobility for any reason. The city itself is not a good environment for living. It is only because of the homosexual community, and singles looking for a partner that anyone even moves to SF. Surrounding areas, like Lamorinda Marin, and the Peninsula, not to mention Santa Cruz,and Carmel, have a far better quality of life.

    The fact that the last car dealership has left the city just underscores the fact that SF is a bohemian theme park, and not a place where people can live normal lives.

  4. Deep Says:

    As a city resident, one thing I have observed, it is better to buy an older used car than a brand new car. Given the dense living quarters, one’s car is bound to be dented and scrapped. There is even the threat of the car being broken into, or simply vandalized. It is easier to deal with these worries with an old used car than a new car. I have seen people opt for older models, even though they can afford the latest models.

  5. Michael Wells Says:

    An article in today’s Oregonian says “In 2000, about 96% of (car) buyers shopped exclusively at dealerships, according to CNW Research. Today, 54% stick to dealerships, while 25% shop only online for cars and 22% do both.”

    That explains some of why dealerships are closing. It doesn’t mention brokers and car buying services, which also keep people out of dealerships. Also, the people who go online and to dealerships frequently have figured out the lowest price they can get a particular car for, so the dealer’s margin goes down along with the purpose of salespeople.

  6. 1st Pencil Says:

    Whatever car it is, old or new, as long as it is safe to drive. People may have different ways on buying cars but car company/shop must look at it and find the best strategy to win back customers.