2012 Fisker Karma during road test, Los Angeles, Feb 2012
Yesterday, Fisker Automotive, makers of the super-sexy 2012 Karma plug-in hybrid sports car, announced that it had just signed its 80th independent dealer.
But Fisker’s 80th dealer, Fisker of Scottsdale, Arizona, isn’t owned by a local independent dealer chain. It’s owned by Penske Automotive.
One of the largest and best known auto dealers in the world, Penske Automotive is a Fortune 500 company with approximately 16,000 employees.
Around the world, it runs 336 different automotive franchises from 42 different brands, covering everything from everyday car brands like Toyota, Volkswagen and Ford through to prestige brands like Aston Martin, Bugatti and Ferrari.
Penske isn’t just a big dealer however: it also knows how to promote and grow a brand.
In 2007, Penske purchased exclusive rights to sell the Smart ForTwo in the U.S., essentially controlling Smart USA and holding the key to the brand’s growth in the U.S.
Last year, after massively turning around Smart’s U.S. brand image, it sold Smart USA back to Mercedes-Benz. During that four-year ownership period, Penske was responsible for over 45,000 Smart ForTwo sales.
At the moment, Penske’s involvement with Fisker is limited, but with very little imagination we can envisage Penske’s franchised dealers all over the U.S. signing with Fisker to sell the $103,000 luxury car.
To do so would be a smart move.
With a car like the 2012 Fisker Karma sitting on the lot, dealers who do sign with Fisker also benefit from the added foot-traffic that the beautifully-designed Karma attracts.
Even if visitors don’t -- or can’t -- buy a Karma, its halo effect means more regular car sales for dealers who choose to sell the Karma alongside more everyday brands.
There’s one final benefit, this time for Fisker. Unlike Tesla, which currently sells its cars through its company-owned showrooms and mall stores, Fisker doesn’t have to worry about state laws and political opposition that make it difficult for automakers to run their own dealerships.
That means better brand penetration and ultimately, more sales.