When it comes to auto companies that value dealers' opinions, General Motors is the best and the worst, according to the National Automobile Dealers Association Dealer Attitude Survey.
The semiannual survey found that Saturn is tops in manufacturer consideration of dealer input. On a scale of 1 to 10, Saturn ranked 9.2; Chevrolet came in dead last, at 3.7. GM brands hold the bottom five positions in that category: Oldsmobile scored 4; Cadillac, 3.9; and Pontiac and GMC tied at 3.8.
Bob Maguire, NADA representative for Saturn and owner of two Saturn stores and a Chevrolet dealership, said Saturn is proof GM can do things right. But he said GM has not applied that knowledge at its other divisions.
'It's an interesting, complex situation,' said Maguire, whose stores are in the Trenton, N.J., area. He retails 1,500 new Saturns and 500 new Chevrolets annually.
'A lot of people employed at Saturn came from other GM entities. How can they be fairer than those who work at Chevrolet? It's the Saturn culture. They make dealers feel like they are a partner. They seek input and they implement it.'
The survey measures how dealers feel about their manufacturers in several areas:
Factory consideration of dealer input
Fairness of policies
Helpfulness of factory personnel.
The industry is getting better at listening to dealers. The industry average is 4.8, up from 4.6 in the previous survey.
Tom Keery, chairman of NADA's Industry Relations Committee and owner of Frost Motors Inc. (Cadillac-Nissan) in Newton, Mass., said the committee has found that manufacturer consideration of dealer input has great impact on how dealers rate manufacturers in other areas.
For instance, Chevrolet is last in consideration of dealer input, last in fairness of policies, and fourth from the bottom in helpfulness of factory personnel.
Saturn, on the other hand, is first in fairness of policies and in consideration of dealer opinion. 'We never see a dealer rank the manufacturer low in terms of value when he ranks it high in terms of dealer input; the converse is true,' Keery said.
A REFLECTION OF TURMOIL
Keery said the survey reflects which manufacturers are struggling with change at the corporate and retail levels.
GM, for instance, is reducing and realigning its dealer network. That program does not include Saturn.
Nissan, which scored just above Oldsmobile in terms of manufacturer consideration of dealer input, is trying to stem sliding sales and market share.