Average vehicle sales per dealership are on track to reach another all-time high this year, an automotive consultancy says.

Urban Science estimates average sales per store, or throughput levels, will shatter the current all-time high, reaching what the firm calls “an astounding” 914 units, if 2014 light-vehicle sales reach a forecasted 16.15 million.

That compares with 874 units in 2013 and 812 in 2012, both record years. The 22-year low point of 564 occurred in 2009, a dismal economic time, particularly for auto sales that went down hard. 

Dealership consolidations thinned out the number of stores in 2009 and 2010. That paring, coupled with improved sales since then, account for the banner throughput numbers of the past three years. 

Despite the record-breaking of late, average sales per store ultimately will settle into “normal” levels of about 850, Urban Science says in its annual Automotive Franchise Activity Report.

The report shows a 0.1% decrease in the number of dealerships in the U.S. and projects the overall distribution network will remain stable for a fourth straight year.

As of January, there were 17,838 dealerships compared with 17,851 the year before.

“Over the last five years, the dealership network has set a new normal pattern,” says Urban Science Vice President John Frith. “Maintaining this very conservative rate has allowed the U.S. network to continue its impressive increase in sales per dealer, creating a healthy and right-sized retail structure that benefits the dealers and automakers.”

More than 96% of local markets saw virtually no net change in dealership numbers. The most significant 2013 increases occurred in California (34 new dealerships) and Texas (15). The two states also led pack in 2012.

As of January, there was a total of 31,440 franchises (brands a dealership sells), a 0.5% decrease from the year before. Urban Science attributes the slight drop to the closing of 220 Suzuki franchises as that brand left the U.S. amid poor sales.

“When it comes to the number of dealerships and franchises, there’s no question we’re in the midst of a very comfortable balance with sales,” Frith says, seeing no indications of dramatic change in the near future.

sfinlay@wardsauto.com