3 automakers' wise investments in dealerships

Automakers keep asking more of their dealers. But lately some manufacturers seem to be focusing less on how dealerships look and more on how well they work.

After years of protracted squabbles over such things as the color of floor tiles and the style of restroom fixtures, both automakers and dealers might benefit from this change.

Three recent initiatives reflect the evolution in what some automakers want from their dealers.

Ford is briefing dealers on the investment needed to repair aluminum-bodied F-150 pickups. General Motors is training dealership employees to pitch the virtues of the embedded 4G LTE high-speed Internet connectivity it will offer on 30 2015 models. And after several years of rapid growth, Subaru is offering advice and cash to its U.S. dealerships to add lifts and service bays and thereby boost customer satisfaction.

Many dealers have long objected to manufacturers' demands for highly specific dealership standards, saying costs exceed benefits. The latest programs require investment but are aimed directly at boosting sales and service revenue.

Because sales are growing at a slower rate and growth increasingly requires winning more market share, building strong brands is more important than ever. That's precisely what the latest efforts address, and they are a welcome change from the conventional battle over shinier showrooms.

Automakers and dealers cooperating to make improvements is simply good business.