Reporter’s Notebook: Let’s Be Seated

Ward’s writers pass along the buzz at this week’s National Automobile Dealers Assn. convention in New Orleans.

Special Coverage

NADA Convention & Exposition

Do What I Say, Not What I Do

Frankness can be hazardous to your automotive career, Gary Dilts, a senior vice president at J.D. Power and Associates, tells dealers here.

No one at an auto maker is willing to raise their hand before the introduction of a new model and tell the boss, “’Excuse me, I don’t think we’ll sell 200,000 of these.’ That could be a career-ending move,” he warns.

Who would know better than Dilts? The one-time vice president-sales for the former DaimlerChrysler reportedly lost his job after voicing concerns the OEM was pushing dealers to order unwanted vehicles to offset production excesses.

Sound familiar?

Theory of Relativity

Things can’t get worse? Yes they can, says Mike Jackson, CEO of AutoNation, the country’s largest dealership chain.

Reviewing recent economic events, he says: “When the credit crisis hit, I began to look back at $4 a gallon gasoline as the good old days.”

Young at Heart

Russ Darrow was considered a 25-year-old whiz-kid when he got his first Chrysler-Plymouth dealership 43 years ago, becoming Chrysler’s youngest dealer.

He now runs 20 dealerships in Wisconsin and is the new chairman of the American International Automobile Dealers Assn.

Industry veteran Dick Colliver, now executive vice president of American Honda, was with Chrysler four decades ago, when he says people kept telling him how he had to meet young Russ Darrow.

“About 30 years later, I finally meet him, and I said, ‘So this is the young Russ Darrow?’”

Pygmalion Redux

Pennsylvania dealer Jack Thompson unwittingly offers an interesting take on the early career days of James Lentz, Toyota’s U.S. sales chief.

In unscripted comments after receiving a lifetime achievement award from the American International Automobile Dealers group here, Thompson, who confesses he’s not a great public speaker, says: “I watched Jim Lentz come up from nothing to where he is now.”

Lentz may have winced, but the comment draws a laugh from the audience.

Let’s Be Seated

Rob Cohen, a Southern California consultant and lawyer for dealerships, says he has been asked some amazing legal questions during his career.

“It’s never been boring. The legal issues stay pretty much the same, but there are so many different scenarios.”

For instance, he says, a dealer called him to say basketball star Shaquille O’Neil, who is 7 ft.-1-in. (2.16-m) tall, wanted to buy a car. But first he wanted the dealership to unbolt the driver’s seat and relocate it closer to the rear-seat.

“The dealership wanted to know if it could be held liable if something actionable happened regarding the repositioning of that seat,” Cohen tells Ward’s.

Cohen’s basic answer: Yes, if the seat were moved before the car was sold. No, if it were moved post-sale, because it would be considered an aftermarket modification. It would void the warranty, though.

Regrets, I Have a Few

They’re friends now, even though George H.W. Bush lost a presidential reelection bid in 1992 to Bill Clinton, who made the softening economy a campaign issue.

During a joint appearance with Clinton at the dealers convention here, Bush is asked what one thing as president he might have done differently.

“Well, convince the people in 1992 that the economy wasn’t that bad,” he says.

Staying Afloat

Hotel pools are too small for avid swimmers, such as Chrysler President Jim Press.

Press, here for the convention, daily heads for nearby Tulane University, because its Olympic-size 50-m swimming pool is more to his liking.

He swims about 90 minutes each morning. “That’s my job,” he jokes to Ward’s. “What I do for Chrysler is my hobby.”

– compiled by Steve Finlay

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