Now that General Motors has shifted marketing power to its five regions, it is about to plug its dealers into the power structure.
Next week, at the annual convention of the National Automobile Dealers Association, GM will announce a new national dealer council, plus five divisional councils and five regional councils.
The national and divisional councils will replace similar committees at GM. However, the regional councils are new and are a key change.
GM has transferred considerable power from Detroit to the new regional general managers headquartered in New York, Atlanta, Chicago, Dallas and Los Angeles. And the new regional councils will advise the regional general managers on such critical issues as local ad campaigns, rebates and market strategies.
'We want to respond much more quickly to the marketplace,' said Darwin Clark, GM's vice president of sales, service and parts. 'We need that input from the dealer. We think this system will capture that input.'
Another key change is how GM structured the regional councils to discourage infighting among its divisions. Since the regional councils include dealers from every division, members will have to consider the interests of all five divisions - not just their own. Saturn Corp. is excluded from the changes.
THE NEW PLAN
Here's how it will work:
Each region will have its own 17-member dealer council. Each marketing division will be represented by three dealers - two elected dealers and one appointed by the regional general manager.
The regional council also will include two representatives of dealerships serviced by GM's telemarketing center. Those members are drawn from remote rural dealerships. The regional councils will meet in March and October.
Each division will have its own 15-member council.
Ten members will be drawn from the regional councils, plus one representative from each region chosen by the NADA.
These councils will discuss issues unique to each marketing division, such as future product plans, rebates and advertising. The divisional councils will meet in April and November.
GM has not yet finalized the makeup of the multidivision national council. However, the company has established several guidelines.
Each division and each region will be represented. Members will be drawn from the regional councils. For the first year, the council will include dealers from the old National Dealers' Advisory Board. Eventually those holdovers will be replaced by dealers from the regional councils.
GM is counting on the holdover dealers to ensure a smooth - and quick - transition, Clark said.
'It is extremely important that we have a transition strategy in place, so that the dealers are familiar (on the councils) with what we are doing,' he said. 'It is very important that we have dealer input as we move forward.' The national council will meet in April and November. However, GM has not yet decided how large the national council will be. GM will wrap up its plans for the national council within a couple of months, he said.
Although GM has not yet settled all the details, it appears the national council also will wield more clout than its predecessor.
This panel will handle issues that affect all five GM divisions, such as parts, service, warranties, vehicle orders and financing.
Since GM has standardized the policies of its divisions, the national council will consider a wide variety of issues once handled by the divisional committees.
That is a major plus, said Jon Agresta, a dealer who has served on various GM advisory groups.
'The new alignment gives us a mechanism to talk to the leaders,' said Agresta, owner of Agresta Olds-Pontiac-GMC in Williams-ton, N.J. Under the old system, 'there wasn't a good conduit to North American Operations.'
If dealers had problems ordering cars, for example, 'you would have had five divisional councils offering opinions to five divisional managers, and each manager would have his own twist.'
With the new dealer councils in place, General Motors will have two major communications links with its 8,000 dealers. On a day-to-day basis, dealers will stay in touch with GM via the company's 214 market area managers. (See story on Page 8.)
Major policy decisions will be reserved for the dealer councils. The councils will serve a second function, offering input to GM executives who normally do not interact with dealers.
Clark said this two-pronged strategy - dealer councils and market area managers - will enable GM to 'take our brand plan right down to the point of sale.'