CARY, N.C. -- Harold Wells, a leader in the 1999 auto dealer revolt against factory-owned stores, died Jan. 23. He was 81.
At the 1999 National Automobile Dealers Association convention, Wells was a newly elected first vice chairman, unofficially the next year's chairman. He was also the owner of Wells Chevrolet-Buick-Pontiac-Oldsmobile-GMC and Wells Chrysler-Dodge-Jeep in Whiteville, N.C. Wells planned to spend his apprentice year as a voice for small and rural dealers.
Then GM announced it planned to buy out some dealers to form a factory-owned network, GM Retail Holdings. Dealers felt betrayed.
NADA leaders shifted lobbying into overdrive. Within 12 months, 22 additional state legislatures required all auto sales be made by franchised new-car dealers, bringing the restricted-sales law total to 48 states.
Wells was the incoming chairman at the 2000 NADA convention, when GM CEO Jack Smith appeared to say he was scrapping the automaker's factory-store program.