For years, we Ford dealers have been led to believe that our manufacturer had at least some appreciation of the franchise system and the job that we as dealers do every day in moving Ford's product.
That belief was kicked in the britches on May 8, 1997, when Ford began to negotiate the purchase of its dealerships in Indianapolis. Apparently, all those years of service mean absolutely nothing to Ford Motor Co.
As a dealer for more than 40 years and an advocate of dealer rights for more than 30 years, I thought I had seen it all. But, frankly, I am genuinely shocked at Ford's unparalleled arrogance in its means of attaining its questionable objectives in the Indianapolis market.
I say 'questionable' because the one thing I have learned from experience is that too often, Ford's purported good intentions somehow fall by the wayside and are replaced by something that usually is quite self-serving.
I think Ross Roberts, Ford Division general manager, hit it on the head when he stated in a recent Fordstar program, 'We have been asking you (dealers) to trust us for 96 years, and we haven't done it the way we told you we would.'
It is true that dealers have lost faith in Ford's integrity, and rightly so.
I cannot help laughing at the 'learning laboratories' theory Ford has presented to us. If Ford really wants to learn what works in the marketplace, it does not have to reinvent the wheel. The reason Toyota and Honda are vigorously opposing Republic Industries' attempt to control large segments of the industry is because they are essentially happy with their distribution systems, which are basically not overdealered!
To further support that reasoning, a recent 'laboratory test' has taken place with Saturn. Isn't it strange that General Motors supports Republic's moves except for Saturn? And, again, Saturn's distribution network is not overdealered!
The simple glaring truth is that virtually all of the so-called ills of the industry disappear when there is a reasonably competitive climate of independently franchised dealers.
For years, the Ford Dealers Alliance has been stating that the fundamental problem is overdealering in many key markets. We have pleaded with Ford to let attrition take its course, yet in Bergen County, N.J., we have seen consecutive dealers go broke at the same point, and still another dealer is appointed with no substantive effort to relocate or assist in combining existing dealers.
And now Ford says it wants to reduce the number of dealers in given markets but, in fact, it wants to be the sole entity in those markets.
Therefore, the independent franchised dealers will be forced to compete with their own manufacturer. That's a scary thought.
Besides, I truly believe that the individual entrepreneur will always do a better job of running a dealership with his or her own investment at stake than a CEO hired to do a job.
The fact is that once Ford begins to buy out its own dealers and enters the retail business, there will be no going back. If ever we dealers needed to come together on an issue, this is it.
It is a tragedy that Ford has alienated its dealer body. Yet, I have seen a complete change in Ford's attitude, slowly evolving toward less cooperation and more dictatorship.
The team spirit has been eroded. It seems that the barbarians are through the gate.