Every dealer advocate I know is reeling from the news alerts about Chrysler and GM cutting dealers' throats to right their failing businesses.
May 14, 2009 will go down in history as the day our government and Chrysler tore the heart out of our franchise system by endorsing the termination of 789 duly franchised dealers without paying them a dime for cars, parts, tools or goodwill.
GM followed that by announcing it will ax 1,100 dealers. GM big wigs are clearly taking careful notes on how the political and marketing winds are shifting. Their dealer nasty-grams come without the cover of bankruptcy; they've set the precedent for terminating dealers simply because they just don't want to deal with them anymore.
Time will tell whether and where that works. They are seeking absolution based on giving the death-row dealers notice that they may appeal. Could they not even deem to offer stock in the future GM should it prosper from their sacrifice? Clearly the bailout is fueled by the very taxes that suffering dealers paid.
Could it be right that they will be cut out of any way to recoup their investments? I may be cynical, but I suspect that the time they are giving dealers is the hammer with which they are pushing others to buy inventory or risk a similar fate (and this from companies propped up by taxpayer bailout money).
When I closed my Chevy store, I was forced to sell new vehicles for two thirds of what dealers were paying GM for the same vehicles.
Clearly the survivors will have very valuable franchises and improved territories at the expense of those forced out. They should recognize this, as should the manufacturers.
If federal bankruptcy or simple arrogance can be used to sidestep state-legislated dealer protections, even Ford (who prides its self on avoiding such tactics) will not likely resist the temptation of availing itself of some bankruptcy salve.
Once everyone is doing it, and the buying public accepts the “B” word, the spin doctors will turn Chapter 11 into a tonic for fixing the American economy.
But, look out before you slap on a bumper sticker “Bankruptcy — Leveling the Playing Field for Americans.” You're being played.
Chrysler's bankruptcy comes with 789 dealer closings leaving a wake of 38,000 lost jobs — American jobs. That's just the first round. One can only assume that the number of American tragedies occasioned by GM's cuts will take the number of victims to well over 100,000.
Bankruptcy is code for stiffing people who trusted you on the way to a reorganized payday. Reorganization is a tool not a goal. We have not yet been informed as to whom the emerging companies will most benefit. Worse yet, no one has yet completed a plan for success.
We have only identified the first victims of past failure. We still need to find how future products will become popular.
No one seems to be asking that question. Everyone is so fixed on bailing out, that they have not decided who will still be in the boat when the holes are plugged and the ship is able to float unaided.
While forming an opinion on who should live and who should die, we should not forget that it is because the domestics provided so many benefits to our economy that imports were able to limit their investments to immediate profits, much of which was quickly shipped off shore.
This current dealer inquisition is brutal and neither the bankruptcy court nor our economy seems prepared for the potential fallout, or cognizant of the disproportionate sacrifices being made to build a brighter future.
The current gatekeepers have pitted us against each other on the appearance of having a handle on this. Let's hope we're not just helping them to dig a deeper grave and that those lucky enough to make fortunes off these changes not forget the debt they will owe to those suffering to get them through.
Peter Brandow is a veteran dealer in Pennsylvania and New Jersey.