NORTH HILLS, CA –The nation’s No.1 Ford dealer is keeping an eye out for new franchises – still.

“Adding brands has been a big benefit for Galpin Motors in my 55 years here,” says owner Bert Boeckmann, who at age 78 is active in the management of a 9-brand dealership group with sons Brad and Beau.

“I’ve signed a letter of intent for the Mahindra truck and SUV line from India, and I’m watching with interest the two China cars displayed at the Detroit auto show by Brilliance (Auto) and BYD (Auto Co. Ltd.),” he tells Ward’s.

Galpin’s retail sales of new Ford vehicles fell 23% in 2008, in line with the industry’s downturn from 2007. The group’s stores, all in the San Fernando Valley north of Los Angeles, dropped 19% in 2009, delivering 19,000 units. Galpin Motors Inc. is No.46 on the Ward’s Megadealer 100.

Despite Ford Motor Co.’s woes of late, Boeckmann remains optimistic about the auto maker’s future.

“The ’10 Ford hybrid Fusion car will point the way, along with the refreshed F-150 truck,” he says during an interview in his flagship Ford dealership here. “This is still a product business.”

A Ford and Lincoln-Mercury dealer dating from what Boeckmann calls the “days of the Edsel,” in the 1950s, he became one of the few Ford dealers to obtain a charter Saturn franchise from General Motors Corp. in the early 1990s.

“We leased the first GM electric car, the EV1 (distributed through Saturn dealers), to Hollywood stars, and they really liked it, even with its low battery range,” he says. “It was a forerunner of all the coming electric cars that will help turn the market around. Too bad it’s taken so long, but they’re the wave of the future.”

With two Saturn stores that are among the brand’s sales-volume leaders, Boeckmann took part in a December conference call urging GM executives to abandon any notion of selling or folding Saturn.

“A group of us dealers – Don Hudler (a former Saturn CEO and owner of six Saturn stores in Texas), Herb Chambers, Dave Fischer, Joe Serra – put together the call. Saturn does need some changes, like stronger used-car programs, but the lineup is great now and owners are very loyal after 18 years.”

Despite the call from the major dealers, GM is proceeding with plans to divest itself of Saturn one way or another.

“Creating a new brand isn’t easy, but it’s harder to sell an existing brand,” says Boeckmann.

Across Roscoe Blvd. from the Ford store, Galpin sells Jaguars, Aston Martins and Volvos in a vast showroom with a restaurant on the premises.

“We’ve made our Galpin dealerships destinations, places to shop at with the family and return to for sales and service,” says Boeckmann. “The Galpin Ford and Jaguar labels rub off on our other brands, and I am convinced will give us good launching pads for the new Asian brands heading our way.”