Dealers happier, but some issues demand redress

OPINION
 

It is encouraging that overall dealer satisfaction with the factories improved this year after a six-year decline. But some things still must be done.

While the 2001 J.D. Power and Associates Dealer Attitude Study found dealers generally more satisfied, there was a wide disparity among makes. The only native North American brand that finished above the industry average was Saturn, which was second to Lexus in dealer satisfaction.

That’s a problem for the Big 3, but it was predictable. Some of the overall improvement in dealer satisfaction undoubtedly is because General Motors and Ford Motor Co. have withdrawn from the business of consolidating dealerships, but each maker has outstanding issues with its dealers that must be resolved.

At GM, it’s a question of getting the right products to dealers and resolving the Oldsmobile matter equitably. Going back to separate make meetings for each brand at the National Automobile Dealers Association convention will help with communication, which is good.

Ford Motor and its Ford Division dealers need to resolve the Blue Oval dealer certification issues equitably. And Ford must get defect-free products to its dealers to help rebuild consumer confidence in the company’s vehicles. Inviting dealers to visit assembly plants is a nice gesture but probably won’t help much.

Chrysler group dealers still are smarting from the cuts in floorplan assistance made last February and the reduced margins on 2002 cars. They also want competitive entry-level passenger cars to sell.

To be sure, other issues affect dealer satisfaction. But they come down to one primary issue around which all others revolve: money. The happiest dealers are usually the ones making the most money.

A healthy gross is a salve for many wounds.

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