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Competing Spurs Overreaching

Competing Spurs Overreaching

Flying home from Las Vegas again. Another successful Internet Battle Plan Conference. I’m already planning the next one. Each time these events come to a close, I find myself in a most creative and innovative state of mind.

This is when I usually reach back and find the inspiration to do new things and go to new places in my life and business.

As usual, my opening conference speech was a flow of consciousness. For more than 37 years now, I have never given a speech that was scripted, rehearsed or totally prepared.

It drives association executives and meeting planners crazy when I just walk up to the podium and start speaking with only an idea of what I am going to say. But it is easy for people and companies to misstate things.

The Ford C-Max controversy about misstated Environmental Protection Agency fuel economy is a symptom of something. I predict other auto makers are going to be spotlighted for exaggerating mileage claims and such.

“Wait a minute, Ziegler,” you might say. “Are you saying manufacturers are liars?” No. All I’m saying is if the shoe fits...

Eight months ago, I wrote a WardsAuto piece (headlined “Lots of Pants on Fire”) on this subject. I jokingly refer to this issue as the Automobile Manufacturer Pinocchio Syndrome.

Now, I love Ford. It is where my retail roots are deepest. Still, every manufacturer stretches facts, ranging from sales statistics to mileage claims.

Last year, I wrote about Mercedes-Benz and BMW fudging sales numbers by urging dealers to order cars at deep discounts and put them in rental, loaner and demo fleets. It was a matter of  doing anything to deliver a car that really wasn’t sold new to anybody, cars that remained on dealer lots until eventually retailed as used units.

Do you believe for a moment every manufacturer hasn’t done or isn’t doing some variation of that?

From working in and with dealerships, I can’t tell you how many times factory guys and gals are on the phone at the end of the month telling dealers to “punch” another 10 units each. In other words, they make dealers report sales that didn’t really happen by titling new cars that still are in inventory.

Is it any wonder auto makers might misstate miles-per-gallon claims about their products?

What Ford did was within federal guidelines when it initially cited the same fuel mileage for the C-Max tall wagon and Fusion sedan because both shared the same hybrid powertrains.

But due to different aerodynamics and other factors, the C-Max didn’t prove to get as good mileage as the Fusion. Ford now is working with the EPA on new fuel-economy guidelines.

Lawsuits and investigations claiming Ford overstated mileage on several models by as much as 22% eventually will be forgotten. Time seems to erase every crisis manufacturers have faced since I’ve been in the business.

How much are we hearing about Toyota’s massive recalls of just a few years ago? It’s over. Consumers have moved on. They’re still buying Toyotas.

Ford is making fuel-economy adjustments on stickers, continuing to improve real mileage, and providing $550 restitution payments to C-Max buyers.

It’s a company’s willingness to make it right that counts. No manufacturer sets out to deliberately harm, mistreat or deceive customers. In the pitched competition among rivals, there may be a tendency to stretch things. But I would never believe it is malicious.

Keep those emails, phone calls, and Facebook posts coming. No cognac again this month since I’m facing knee-replacement surgery, again, September 9.

Jim Ziegler is president of Ziegler Supersystems as well as a trainer, commentator and public speaker on dealership issues. He can be reached at [email protected]. WardsAuto readers also may comment on this article by logging in or registering below.

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