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Buy American Cars? Not in San Francisco

2008 Ford Mustang on the streets of San Francisco

2008 Ford Mustang on the streets of San Francisco (Ford)

U.S. automakers are having a banner year in 2011. Sales are up and so are profits. And they’re doing it without much help from the city of San Francisco.

On April 29, the last domestic car dealership within city limits, San Francisco Ford Lincoln, closed its showroom doors and began winding down its repair and service operations, according to the San Francisco Chronicle. Business had fallen off so much over the past few years that Ford Motor Co. itself had taken over the operation from its previous owner, but even support from the mother ship couldn’t keep it afloat.

Foreign automakers, including BMW, Honda, Scion and Smart, all continue to run what appear to be thriving dealerships in the area, as San Franciscans increasingly pledge their allegiance to import brands. Even the site of the last General Motors dealership to shut down in the city -- Ellis Brooks Chevrolet – is soon to be the home of a new mega-showroom for Nissan/Infiniti.

San Francisco’s tight streets, high parking rates and expensive gasoline don’t lend themselves well to the kind of large vehicles that make up the bulk of sales for the Big Three, so the appeal of smaller imports is not surprising. Still, the departure of the American brands comes at a time when Ford, GM and Chrysler are in the process of reinventing themselves with more of the compact, fuel-efficient offerings that are popular in dense urban centers.

California is the nation’s largest market for automobiles, and San Francisco is its fourth largest city, with a population of over 800,000 residents. Mel Turner, president of San Francisco Ford Lincoln, said Ford’s sales statewide have increased 37 percent this year. Nevertheless, his current and potential customers will now be referred to other dealers in the area.

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