Dick Colliver, hired at dark hour, led Honda into golden era
U.S. sales exec built the Honda brand, avoided incentives and forged a strong relationship with dealers
Dick Colliver restored dealers' confidence in Honda.
Colliver, who was hired from Mazda as senior vice president of sales, cleaned up that mess. And in the coming years, despite entering Honda at one of the most difficult times in its history, Colliver ushered the automaker through a golden era, staying until age 69 as one of the company's longest-serving senior executives. In April, he stepped down from daily operations and became senior adviser.
Under Colliver, Honda embraced trucks, held the line on incentives, boosted leasing, resisted V-8s and forged a strong relationship with dealers. He lost the initial hybrid battle with Toyota, but that was one of Honda's few setbacks. Overall, Colliver nurtured and polished the Honda brand, attracting affluent buyers away from the Detroit 3.
"Dick is all about building the brand," says Brad Tonkin of the Tonkin Family of Dealerships in Portland, Ore.
For instance, in the early '90s, Honda's dealer ad associations were doing their own advertising. Some of the work was good, but some was awful, says Montgomery, Ala., dealer Forrest McConnell, head of the dealer council at the time.
Says Colliver: "The dealer ad associations were dysfunctional. The type of advertising they were running was brand-damaging."
He abolished the ad associations and set up a regional marketing program, which lured shoppers into dealerships.
"We had to start pushing our cars into the market harder than we had been doing," Colliver says. Honda Division sales rose 11.2 percent from 1993 to 1994, to 676,093 units.
Colliver is straightforward, firm but fair and very focused, dealers say. "He will not stray off a task until he nails it down," McConnell says.
Significance: Colliver ushered Honda through a golden era, retiring this year at 69. He expanded successfully into light trucks and nurtured the Honda brand, attracting affluent buyers away from the Detroit 3.
His last assignment at Mazda was to launch the upscale Amati brand, which was to compete with Acura, among others. But Mazda canceled the plan, and Colliver was in the midst of taking early retirement when Honda hired him.
Colliver persuaded Honda's finance company to set up a leasing program. He also established a certified used-car program and refused to sell to fleets. He stayed away from customer cash incentives.
The result? The Honda brand consistently has ranked tops in resale value, allowing the automaker largely to avoid profit-eroding sales incentives.
Honda's brand image wasn't the only thing suffering when Colliver arrived. Dealer morale was in the dumps because of bribery and misreporting of sales.
Colliver took time to evaluate the situation, then "cleaned house of the people who needed to leave," McConnell says. "He is not scared to take on a task." That restored dealers' confidence in Honda, McConnell says.
Colliver dealt with the scandal quickly, dealer Tonkin says. "His whole focus was on moving forward and improving the brand," he says.
To keep dealers informed his first year, Colliver traveled the country to dine with them in groups. He also sent out videos of himself talking about how Honda was doing and what it was planning.
Dealers love Colliver. Dealer McConnell compares Colliver to a good football coach "who is hard on you but always makes you perform at your best."
At a product meeting in Las Vegas in early April, dealers gave Colliver a five-minute standing ovation. He retired March 31 as executive vice president of auto sales.