New-car dealers are adding jobs and feeling optimistic

New-car dealers are adding workers, opening more stores and expressing general optimism about their business, according to an annual report released this week by the National Automobile Dealers Assn.

There were 933,500 workers employed at U.S. dealerships in 2011 that sold new cars and trucks, a 4.6% increase from the previous year, said Paul Taylor, chief economist of the trade group.

The number of dealerships, which has declined dramatically in recent years, has started to climb, growing about 66 on a net basis to about 17,600.

Still, that’s down from more than 21,000 before the recession and the U.S. auto industry restructuring. California has 1,307 new-car dealerships, more than any other state. Texas is second with 1,178.

“The arrival of new brands and new dealerships is a sign that even more vigorous competition is on the way in the U.S. vehicle marketplace,” Taylor said. “As new brands enter the U.S. market, the net dealership count may increase in future years of strong economic growth.”

In 2011, the average new-car dealership employed 53 workers and had an annual payroll of $2.6 million. New-car dealers employ more than 95,000 workers in California, amounting to an annual payroll of more than $5 billion.

Average dealership sales rose 12.3% last year to about $35 million.

Only 8% of dealers surveyed this March expected their profits to decline in 2012. That reflects a general optimism in the industry. In the last 10 years, the only time fewer car dealers expected profits to decline was last year, when just 6.7% said so.