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It’s House of Imports--by a Bumper

John O'Dell covers major Orange County corporations and manufacturing for The Times. He can be reached at (714) 966-5831 and at john.odell@latimes.com

The nation’s top two Mercedes Benz dealers, both in Orange County, fight constantly about who’s No. 1--to the amusement of many others in the auto retailing industry and to the dismay of Mercedes-Benz officialdom.

The company prefers a low-key approach--it doesn’t even allow its dealers in the United States to use the Mercedes identity in their company names. So the battle between Michael O’Donoghue’s House of Imports in Buena Park and Fletcher “Ted” Jones Jr.'s Fletcher Jones Motor Cars in Newport Beach, usually carried out in their newspaper ads, makes ‘em see red at Mercedes’ regional headquarters in Costa Mesa.

The 1997 numbers are out and Ward’s Dealer Business, the new-car retail industry journal, ranks House of Imports as the top Mercedes seller in both the number of cars sold and the dealership’s total revenue from all sources. The latter figure includes income from parts, service, financing and collision repairs--arenas in which Jones traditionally has outperformed House of Imports.

The gap is marginal, but Fletcher Jones Imports finished second.

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The magazine actually bases its ratings only on total sales and in most recent lists, including 1996, had Fletcher Jones in the top spot for Mercedes, with House of Imports in second place. But House in past years has claimed No. 1 status, anyhow, because it led in the number of new cars sold. That’s the only real measuring stick, the dealer insists.

For 1997, however, Wards ranks House ahead of Jones in units sold and in gross revenue--although the gap is marginal.

The numbers:

* New cars sold. House, 2,136; Jones, 2,076.

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* New car revenue. House, $106.2 million; Jones $109 million (the average customer spends more on a new Mercedes at Jones’ store than at O’Donoghue’s place.

* Used cars sold. House, 1,946; Jones, 826.

* Used car revenue. House, $42.9 million; Jones, $30.4 million.

* Total revenue. House, $169.4 million, Jones, $169.1 million.

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In Ward’s national ranking of the 500 largest dealerships by total volume, House of Imports was 19th, up from 44th in 1996, and Fletcher Jones was 20th, up from 36th the prior year.


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