GM restates commitment to minority dealers

Loss of market share, efforts to find dealerships for lame-duck Oldsmobile dealers and a new program to recruit women dealers have not deterred General Motors from its commitment to increase its minority dealer count by the end of 2001, the automaker said.

The GM Minority Dealers Association, in a June 18 letter to GM CEO Rick Wagoner, had voiced concerns that minority dealers will be left by the wayside while GM addresses more pressing issues.

Bill Perkins, president of the GM minority dealer group and owner of two Chevrolet stores in suburban Detroit, said the letter sparked several meetings with GM executives and garnered a reassurance from the company that it is committed to the program.

Wagoner did not meet with the group. But Bill Lovejoy, GM group vice president of vehicle sales; and Michael Grimaldi, vice president of field sales, service and parts; were among the executives who discussed the issues with the association's board members, Perkins said.

Bob Romero, GM's general director of minority dealer development, said the company expects to meet its goal of having 375 minority dealers by the end of the year. GM had 350 minority dealers in June. That number has edged up to 360.

Perkins said the dealer group is not trying to beat up on GM. The association, he said, realizes that GM has much it needs to attend to, such as overall market conditions. But the dealers want to be proactive and ensure that their concerns are addressed before a problem occurs.

'We want to get their attention now,' Perkins said. 'We don't want to wait until a year from now, and then, instead of the number of ethnic minority dealers growing, its decreasing. We want to partner with them in finding solutions.'

In addition to being concerned about how the women's initiative and the Oldsmobile phaseout will impact minority dealer appointments, Perkins said the association wants to know how many minority dealers are in GM's dealer network and how many are losing money.

Romero said the profitability gap between GM's minority dealer network and its entire dealer body has disappeared. As of May 31, 75.1 percent of minority dealers were profitable compared with 75.5 percent for all GM dealers, he said.

You can reach Arlena Sawyers at asawyers@crain.com

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