Ford dealerships again dominate the list of top automobile dealers in the San Fernando Valley, thanks in large part to the popularity of the Valley’s apparent vehicle of choice, the ubiquitous sport utility vehicle. North Hills-based Galpin Ford tops the list with $366 million in sales in 1998, a 10.1 percent increase over the previous year. Vista Auto, which offers primarily Ford products but also sells Mercury, Lexus and Isuzu models, came in No. 2 with $219 million in revenue from selling 5,435 new cars. Universal City Nissan, meanwhile, came in third with revenue of $148 million on sales of 3,446 new cars. Typically, imports are among the top-selling cars in Southern California, but the popularity of SUVs helps explain why the Valley bucks that trend, said Tim Keenan, a senior editor at Ward’s Dealer Business, a trade publication. “The majority of people who have sport utility vehicles have no desire to go off road, to go camping or biking, anything like that,” said Keenan. “But driving one of these things is considered rugged, macho and adventurous. It’s all in the marketing, and people are eating it up.” Valencia-based Magic Ford, which was bought out by Wayne Huizenga’s Republic Industries two years ago, dropped two spots on this year’s list, ending up in the No. 4 position. Magic suffered a 17 percent decline in revenue in 1998, from the previous year, dropping from $143 million to $118 million. Tim Kelley, the general manager, said he started in January and couldn’t speak for managers who preceded him but said so far the dealership is “having a great year” in 1999, due in large part to the popularity of SUVs. Jon Shuken, sales manager at Vista Auto, agreed that trucks and sport utility vehicles are definitely driving sales for his group as well. “The Explorer is the best selling (SUV) on the market, not only in the Valley but nationally,” he said. “That whole segment is the top segment on the market right now.” Keenan said the SUV market is so important to Ford that the automaker is building its marketing campaign around the vehicles. Ford is calling its franchises “Ford Outfitters” rather than dealerships. The automaker will have five different SUV models on the market in 2000 as part of its “No Boundaries” marketing campaign, he said. While Ford has a strong showing on this year’s list, General Motors Corp. a one-time mainstay in the Valley no longer has a significant presence. The only GM franchises to make the list are Saturn of the Valley and Guy Schmidt Automotive Group. Saturn of the Valley, which is operated Galpin Motors Inc. owner Bert Boeckmann of North Hills, ranks 11th on the list, with $50 million in 1998 revenue, a 30 percent increase over the previous year. Glendale-based Guy Schmidt Automotive ranks 12th on the list with revenue of $42.4 million in 1998, a 32 percent decrease from the previous year. However, it’s difficult to get a complete picture of GM sales in the Valley because Rydell Automotive Group, one of GM’s principal dealers locally, declined to participate in the survey, and its revenue figures were not otherwise available. The Rydell group, which owns 35 dealerships nationwide, was brought in by GM last year to boost the automaker’s dismal market share in the Valley, which is a meager 13 percent compared to GM’s 30 percent market share nationally. The group, which is headed by high-volume car dealer Wes Rydell, took over nine GM franchises Oldsmobile, Chevrolet, Buick, Pontiac, Cadillac and GMC and consolidated them into stores in San Fernando, Van Nuys and Northridge. Rydell, contacted at his office in Grand Forks, N.D., declined to release revenue figures, but he did say that sales volume in the Valley has increased by double digits since his group took over in May 1998. Jay Gorman, executive vice president of the California Motor Car Dealers Association, said it’s hard to say why GM hasn’t done well in the Valley, but distribution problems might be one of the primary factors. “We have GM dealers tell us from time to time that they have a very difficult time obtaining popular vehicles,” said Gorman. “Clearly GM has had some problems (getting inventory to dealers).” But while GM has trouble getting cars to its dealers, Ford doesn’t appear to be having such difficulties. Galpin Ford sold 11,555 new cars in 1998 at owner Boeckmann’s North Hills lot, more than twice the number of the nearest competitor. In addition to his Ford and Saturn operations, Boeckmann’s Galpin Jaguar-Lincoln Mercury franchise generated revenues of $81.2 million in 1998, a 4 percent increase over the previous year. Competitor Shuken said it will be a long time before any of the Valley dealers reach the size of the Galpin empire. “They’re huge,” he said.