General Motors dealers are upbeat — all things considered, says GM CEO Richard Wagoner.
“In the context of the circumstances we're facing — oil prices almost $100 (a barrel) and the housing situation really affecting certain geographical areas heavily — dealers attitudes are remarkably good,” he says.
One reason for the dealer optimism is GM enhancing its product lineups with impressive vehicles, he says. “If you are a Saturn dealer, you've died and gone to heaven in the span of like three years.
“We couldn't turn everyone's portfolio that fast, but everyone got some of that. Buick dealers got Lucerne and then the Enclave and they say, ‘I see what you're doing now.’ I say, ‘Hey, we're going to keep the focus on the product.’ They like that.”
GM dealers are starting to see demand for their vehicles.
“They are telling us they would like more (Cadillac) CTSs, (Chevrolet) Malibus and Enclaves, which is a good situation to be in,” Wagoner says.
“There are certain areas in which dealers are feeling pressure, but I think they feel good about our products,” he says. “As we sit down and talk about business strategy directly, my sense is we have good support and they'd like to make a little more money.”
He says most dealers understand that, considering the existing market conditions, “you have to play it smart rather than with a short-term focus.”
Wagoner says GM wants to make sure it has the right number of dealers in vibrant markets, such as south Florida, while at the same time reducing retail outlets in areas that have too many dealers.
But the auto maker is trying not to be heavy-handed about it.
“Frankly it's a sensitive issue with our dealers,” he says. “They want to make their own calls and we try to respect that. We try to facilitate what we think is the right layout in terms of location and brand strategy.”
He adds: “Gradual consolidation will likely continue, but we want to work with individual dealers as they make their calls, opposed to pushing it harder than it would naturally go.”