Denver dealers say the TV and print campaign that Republic Industries Inc. is using to launch its AutoNation name is giving auto retailing a black eye.
Republic's ads began on Christmas in Denver, where the company is testing a marketing approach that includes no-haggle pricing and product and service guarantees.
To promote AutoNation stores as a customer-friendly environment, Republic contrasts its operations with the stereotypical, high-pressure car dealership.
Although the campaign was designed to be funny, it has made local dealers furious. Some dealers are complaining to their manufacturers.
The commercials feature 'the guys in plaid,' two fictional high-pressure car salesmen in plaid suits. The salesmen devise gimmicks and jingles to compete with AutoNation's low prices.
'The guys in plaid are supposed to be representative of every other dealer but them,' said John Schenden, president of Pro Chrysler-Plymouth-Jeep in Denver and president of the Metro Denver Automobile Dealers Association. 'That incenses the hell out of me and the other dealers. I've got the best sales satisfaction ratings of any other dealer my size in the region.'
Schenden wants to meet with Fred Emich, a Denver dealer who sold out to Republic, to get him to ask Republic to reconsider the marketing approach. And Bill Barrows, the president of the Colorado Automobile Dealers Association, intends to write Republic asking the company to stop the campaign.
'Unfortunately, Republic sees fit to recall all the old stereotypes of yesteryear,' said Barrows. 'It's causing a pretty big rift between Republic Industries and the rest of the dealers.'
The stereotypes no longer apply to Denver dealers, said Barrows.
But Tom Eggleston, Republic's senior vice president of auto retail operations, and champion of the Denver effort, says the commercials were grounded in extensive research.
'We did focus groups with Denver consumers and heard passionate stories of the really difficult memories they had shopping for cars,' said Eggleston. 'We felt (the guys in plaid) were appropriate.'
Though he declined to disclose details, Eggleston said the advertisements are boosting traffic at Republic's 17 Denver dealerships.
The campaign includes TV, radio, billboards, newspaper and regional magazines.
In addition to plaid-clad salesmen, the ads also feature John Elway, the Denver Broncos quarterback who sold his dealership to Republic. Elway promises 'lower prices and higher standards.'
Republic, the nation's largest dealership group, is using the 'John Elway AutoNation' name only in Denver. It intends to promote the AutoNation name as early as this year when it rolls out the retail name to the rest of its chain - which now includes almost 400 new-car dealerships and 42 AutoNation used-car superstores in 20 states.