GENERAL MOTORS IS GETTING ALONG BETTER WITH its dealers these days after the big battle of 1999.
So says John Middlebrook, GM's vice president of vehicle brand marketing.
Last year, GM dropped a bomb when it announced plans to buy nearly 800 of dealerships. GM dealers threw a fit. It turned into a mess for GM. But then its top executives - from the chairman on down - went to the NADA convention in Orlando to say the dealership acquisition plan was dead wrong - and dead, too.
"We've seen a lot of improvement in our dealer relations," Mr. Middlebrook tells me. "Communications have improved. The dialogue is good. And we haven't dropped any bombs on them in a while. That helps."
He and Michael Grimaldi, GM's vice president of sales and marketing, will attend a series of upcoming regional dealer meetings.
"We'll find out at those how we're doing, but things have settled down," says Mr. Middlebrook.
First Lincoln dealership: Harold Kuhn's Lincoln Mercury dealership in Detroit is the oldest Lincoln store around, dating back to the 1920s.
Founded by his grandfather, the dealership, Park Motor Sales, is on Woodward Avenue near Six Mile Road - just down the street from Henry Ford's old Model T plant, parts of which are still standing. The original Lincoln sales office is on that site.
While so many dealerships migrated to the suburbs, Mr. Kuhn has remained in the city of Detroit. His urban customers appreciate that.
"Virtually every week someone comes into my office to thank me for staying in the city," he says.
Too many Excursions: When Ford Motor Co. introduced the super-sized Excursion SUV last year, someone asked Ford Division President James O'Connor if local dealership ads might say something like, "We have dozens of Excursions on our lot."
Replied Mr. O'Connor, "I hope not."
His point was that Ford planned to position the Excursion as a special product. So if dealerships had too many on hand, they weren't selling well.
So guess what I came across the other day? It was a local Ford dealership ad proclaiming its abundant inventory of Excursions. The dealership tried to put a positive spin on it, saying there were plenty to choose from.
But the negative side is that, what Mr. O'Connor hoped wouldn't happen, is happening.
Ford is cutting back on production of the Excursion. Part of it is the automaker, as an environmental issue, backing away from making gas-guzzlers. The other part is backing away from gas-guzzlers with so-so sales.
Who really picks car colors?: It's commonly believed that customers pick the colors of their vehicles. From that notion come, annual polls on which car colors consumers like best.
But Trevor Creed says dealers play a huge role in determining color popularity. He's senior vice president of design for DaimlerChrysler AG.
Mr. Creed says dealers order vehicles based on the colors which they think will sell well.
He explains, "If there are 12 color offerings, dealers will order six or eight of those that they like.
"If a customer is interested in a vehicle that's not a color which the dealership ordered, the sales person will try to talk the customer out of it, saying things like, `That color could cause problems when you try to sell or trade in your car."
Of course dealers say that one of the keys to their success is tracking what sells and doesn't sell in their particular markets. That obviously includes the color of cars.
Liked the company so much, he bought it: Remember that TV commercial where the guy says that he liked his Remington electric razor so much, he bought the company?
Well, Allen Samuels, who owns several dealerships in Texas, liked the service he received from a local travel agency so much, he bought it.
"We do quite a bit of business and leisure travel," Mr. Samuels says from his Waco office. "We've exclusively used House of Travel. My wife Donna and I are very attentive students of customer service, and we have consistently given the agency an A+ in every category."
It may seem odd to buy a business as a way of showing customer satisfaction. But the deal makes good business sense to Mr. Samuels.
He explains, "Now we can handle every aspect of a vacation or business trip, from selling the car that takes a customer to the airport, to managing every aspect of the trip."
Allen Samuels Auto Group is moving its corporate offices to a former mall movie theater in Waco. House of Travel will occupy 2,000 sq.-ft. of office space at the front of the new office building.