Speaking to the Florida Automobile Dealers Assn. convention, I related this bit of ancestry: My late father was editor of Automotive News way back. He had a deep respect for dealers and felt they — more than many others in the industry — knew what was really going on.
I could say, “Everything I learned in this business I learned from my father” — who told me, “Listen to the dealers. They'll tell you what's what.”
Auto makers, much more than in the past, listen to their dealers. Why? Because dealers are smart, on the front line and know what's going on. For example:
A while back, Buick dealers clamored for an SUV. I asked the then-Buick Div. general manager about that. He said, “Dealers want everything.” Well, not everything, but how about an SUV during the height of the SUV craze? Buick now has an SUV.
In 1997, Cadillac introduced the new Catera, vowing it would turn the ailing brand around. But a New Jersey dealer told me the Catera's problem was that it didn't look like a Cadillac.
He said, “My customers tell me it looks like a Chrysler from the back and a Chevy from the front, and they're right.” The Catera is gone, and today's Cadillacs look like Cadillacs.
In the early 1990s, Mercedes-Benz U.S. sales were hurting. A Bethesda, MD, Mercedes dealer, Mike Jackson, tried to convince the German auto maker to put things in the car that appeal to Americans. Like decent cupholders. The response: People should drive cars, not carry open beverages in them.
Jackson told me that he told them: “You haven't a clue.” But they were smart enough to hire him for the corporate side. He became president of Mercedes-Benz U.S.A. and helped turn the company around before becoming a dealer again, of sorts, as the head of AutoNation.
Oh, and Mercedes-Benz now has nice cupholders. So good that Mercedes took first place in the cupholder competition at the Ward's Auto Interiors Show.
No one group can give you a 360-degree perspective of the auto industry. Auto makers can give you their take, but it tends to be brand-biased. Auto suppliers will give you theirs, but it's limited.
If I had to depend on one group for a strong perspective of the auto industry, it would be dealers.
Not only because they are the ones selling (and servicing) the things, but because the dealers I've dealt with have been honest, frank and knowledgeable. If they criticize, it's usually constructive criticism. They have been very generous in sharing their knowledge.
So thanks for that, and in return I'd like to assure readers of our goal of giving them the most useful information and best practices for running great dealerships.
Each month, we strive to provide a powerful package of in-depth features, expert profit-center advice columns, and stories on what's going on in this industry and where it is headed. That's supplemented with Ward's data, the industry's information gold standard.
Accordingly, Ward's Dealer Business truly is the “dealer advocate” publication. Some trade magazines claim to be that.
But running one company press release after another, verbatim, is not content that serves readers' best interests (although it does a nice job of serving the interests of the companies) and it certainly isn't objective, in-depth coverage of the dealer world.
If other publications want to take that cut-and-paste approach by running pages of press releases, fine. But please don't claim to advocate dealers' interests.
We certainly share new-product information. But we try to put it in perspective, and run items worthy of your attention.
Meanwhile, our commitment to you is to provide dealers with the best and most relevant auto-retailing information.
If you think we can do a better job, or if there is something you believe we should do that we're not doing now, please let me know at [email protected].
And thanks again for everything.
Steve Finlay is editor of Ward's Dealer Business.