Cadillac store bests GM in Pa. relocation fight

A Pennsylvania appeals court has backed a Pittsburgh-area Cadillac dealership in its relocation fight with General Motors.

The Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania agreed with the state dealer board that GM lacked valid reasons to deny Bowser Cadillac's relocation request.

Bowser contends it must move because it can't upgrade its current leased facility to qualify for GM's $800-per-vehicle Essential Brand Elements incentive program. The dealership says that staying at its current location in McMurray, Pa., cost it about $315,000 in 18 months.

GM argued that Bowser's proposed new site would put the store only 9.1 miles from Rohrich Cadillac in Pittsburgh, the area's largest Cadillac dealership, thus crimping Rohrich's sales. Bowser's current store is 12 miles from Rohrich.

GM denied Bowser's relocation request in February 2012, saying it would cause a 16 percent drop in Rohrich's suggested sales, place the rivals "only minutes apart," hurt the Pittsburgh Multi Dealer Area Cadillac Network, be less convenient for some customers, and impair the brand's competiveness against other luxury brands. There are two other major Cadillac stores in the Pittsburgh market.

As alternatives, GM suggested that Bowser sell or move elsewhere. Bowser rejected those suggestions and filed a protest with the Pennsylvania Board of Vehicle Manufacturers, Dealers and Salespersons. The board allowed Rohrich to participate in the hearing, over Bowser's objection.

After the hearing, the board concluded that GM's rejection was unreasonable and ordered the automaker to approve Bowser's relocation. Rohrich appealed.

A three-judge Commonwealth Court appeals panel unanimously affirmed the board's decision.

"The board analyzed the evidence and found that the denial was unreasonable because [GM's] reasons were replete with overstatements and inconsistent calculation methods, unsupported by GM's own evidence, and outcome-driven," the court said in a decision written by Senior Judge James Colins.

For example, the court cited expert testimony that even if Bowser relocated, GM's own figures showed that "Rohrich would still be expected to have an increase in annual sales of approximately 100 vehicles."

In addition, the court noted, "GM discussed Bowser's request for relocation with Rohrich and determined what alternatives it was willing to propose to Bowser based on Rohrich's approval." The court cited an e-mail from "one of the GM decision-makers" who "expressed no objection to Bowser's proposed relocation other than concern that Rohrich would be upset."

GM chose not to participate in Rohrich's appeal. A GM spokeswoman declined to comment on why but said: "Bowser won the right to relocate and it is now up to them to take the next steps."

Rohrich's lawyer, James DeAngelo of Harrisburg, declined to comment on the decision.

John Consevage, of Harrisburg, who represents Bowser, said: "This is the first case decided by the Commonwealth Court that specifically addresses what is unreasonable conduct as a matter of law under the meaning of the Pennsylvania vehicle act."

You can reach Eric Freedman at freedma5@msu.edu

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