Warranty and insurance companies expect dealers to deny responsibility for mishaps on peril of losing coverage. Manufacturers expect dealers to keep quiet about product flaws on peril of losing warranty reimbursement.
Denying, delaying and defending combine with hype, hyperbole and puffery to undermine consumer confidence.
Responsibility is the hardest virtue to find in the retail world. Manufacturers and many dealers strategically fend off a lot of contact with consumers.
Seldom does a guilty party promptly trot out a sincere apology with an appropriate solution. Modern problem solving always begins with a knee jerk denial followed by the delay of a prolonged defense.
But fear not, American consumers know, in their hearts, when they're being ripped off, lied to, maneuvered, or played. As importantly, they respond to honest dealing and they show it in their brand choices.
True, that response too often comes after they've been deceived by hucksters and con men. Also true, many of the cruelest carpetbaggers flash bright while they devastate a marketplace.
But the response of a scorned public is always severe if not quick, and the bad boys always go down, eventually. Think, however, what the marketplace might be, as soon as tomorrow, if auto makers sincerely policed dealers and themselves for honest dealing by giving more than lip service to matters of integrity.
What if the OEMs took a pass on Madison Avenue's ethos that double dealing isn't deceitful; it's just marketing?
Has the old adage that you can't cheat an honest man been spun so hard that some think it's acceptable, dare I say required, that you try? Regardless, it doesn't mean that a few good companies overseen by a few hard-nosed politicians couldn't change things immediately.
So far, our embrace of a global caveat emptor, “Let the buyer beware” has forced us to discipline ourselves and encourage our children to greet everything with skepticism as armor against deception and disappointment. But skepticism alone cannot create straightforward options to the tricks that fill the marketplace.
The best we can hope for is that our government stings those who compete at the lowest common denominator by matching lies with more lies; that laws be enacted to help forthright offers reach the marketplace.
Without governmental support, a company's courage to fight the vivid images of falsehood with a limited palette of plain truth will not be enough.
We the people have made an investment in our domestic automobile industry. We've bailed out the domestic producers with our tax dollars and the suffering of tens of thousands of American workers. We've placed our faith in a new beginning.
Since we are now our own customers, why not demand a code of conduct with standards of care and responsibility that are better than what we replaced?
It's clear that we haven't gotten it right to this point. Whether the survivors are more worthy than those sacrificed, or the gang of executives suiting up today is better, smarter or more devoted than those who were fired, we may never know.
But, we can know that the rules going forward require more integrity and transparency than those of the past; whether customers buying a domestic car or truck today are getting a better deal from a better company than they would have a few years ago. We can know this by establishing a standard of care that demands decency.
I can't say who will be lucky enough pick the most popular colors or shapes for the cars and trucks of the future. I don't know whether gas mileage, horse power or cup holders will drive next year's car wars.
However, I can say that the company that pledges to make it right for their customers, employees and dealers will earn my vote for the greatest backing and most liberal terms that our American government can provide.
I urge my fellow Americans to buy brands that are committed to a better retail marketplace.
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