On weekends, Chrysler Group CEO Dieter Zetsche tools around in his personal minivan, car pooling the kids to dance class and occasionally picking up people like a friendly neighbor.
This is the Dieter whom few people (save close friends) really know, according to those who know.
I can only suppose that Ford Motor Co. CEO Bill Ford, possessing the same affable persona, drives his F-150 while checking off his weekend chore list or stopping in at the local Starbucks.
Yep, regular guys all, these modern titans of commerce would rather tool around in minivans and pickups than be driven. They are one of us, suffering right along with us, feeling what we feel, wanting what we want.
I like this latest spin. Gone are the smart, hard-charging, giants of industry from whom we'd expect heroic effort and cold logic.
Enter the age of regular guys, incapable of the kind of mean-spirited, cut-throat strategies geared to create profits at any cost. We can now count on a more human approach with plenty of time for profits after customers, dealers and staffs are satisfied. The bottom line will come in its own time. Our OEM factories will wait for their profits to be a consequence of ours, not competing with them. This is the today's ethic.
You don't believe me? Why not? There's plenty of evidence that the old philosophy didn't work. Every fiber of your being knows that this ethic can and does work right now in all the best dealerships. Ask any successful dealer whether he makes money off the backs of his staff or after they've made theirs. Six out of eight times, the dealer pays his staff up front and most in advance of their production. This is how good teams become great. This is the stuff of trust.
Of course, trust can only be built upon a foundation of competence, lest ineptitude and shoddiness erase all traces of it.
However, given a team with solid skill sets, only trust will enable that gang to move in concert toward a common goal. What is missing in most automotive retail strategies are the basics, blocking and tackling as a team.
Manufacturers mistrust their lower staff and their dealers as demonstrated by inadequate, last-minute communication of sales strategies.
Dealers prove their mistrust by waiting to stock vehicles until they've become proven winners and then by undercutting one another with devilish offers and fear tactics.
Watch out when dealers, factory field staff and senior management all hedge their bets with fall-back positions rather than go forward as a team.
Poor execution can trip up the greatest of marketing ideas. But there's hope yet.
It's rare enough that you have great product, price and creative at the same time. Consider the tragedy of having all three and still missing the market because your team is hesitant to enthusiastically take them public.
Nowadays the volume products from the top 10 automobile manufacturers are remarkably close in quality and appearance. I'm not talking about the image stuff that the buff magazines go ga-ga over and then get placed in heated garages with polished floors.
I'm focusing on meat-and-potatoes products that go into hundreds of thousands of driveways and public-parking spaces all across America.
What separates those top 10 volume products is more about consumer belief in the brand than in the wow of a new design, color or number of cup holders. What shapes customers belief in a brand is the ownership experience. What makes or breaks that experience is the commitment of dealerships' staffs.
Want to know how I determine whose staff is likely to take a hit product to the promised land? I don't rely on Polk reports, CSI statistics or stock values. I look in the Sunday auto section, count cars on the sales lots of my competitors and inquire as to whose salespeople are happy.
Show me a franchise where dealers, salespeople and the factory are acting in concert and I'll show you a brand that is poised for profits.
Show me fragmented messages, grumbling staffers and spotty inventory, and I'll bet we're looking at a brand that's sliding down the slope of mistrust.
Peter Brandow is a veteran dealer in Pennsylvania and New Jersey.