General Motors needs to come clean.
GM is hiring politically savvy public relations specialists to act as lobbyists in various state capitals. It appears to be a well-organized campaign to circumvent dealer relations and overturn strict franchise laws by taking its case straight to the public.
At the heart of the matter are efforts by GM and other automakers to gain more control in the retail process. That includes consolidating dealerships; factory ownership or part ownership of dealerships; and direct sales to consumers through the Internet.
For about a century, independent dealers have been the backbone of the retail chain. As independent business people, dealers have a lot invested in the current franchise system, so they are understandably upset when factories want to change the ground rules.
And this past year, dealers have made strides in preserving the status quo. At least 10 states passed new restrictions on factory ownership of dealerships; five had no prior rules. More legislation is pending.
Maybe it's only natural for automakers to take their fight directly to the people as they try to shed franchise laws that restrict their options. GM went head-to-head with dealers in Georgia and blocked new franchise restrictions by uniting with e-commerce interests. GM ought to be frank about its intentions.
Many consumers are still disenchanted with the traditional car-buying experience and welcome alternative ways to buy or lease.
Ultimately, consumers will decide which retail methods survive. They will vote with their pocketbooks. If they want to buy over the Internet, they will find a way.
It always makes sense to find middle ground, particularly among partners. But if none is found, admit it. Dealers deserve to have the facts.
If GM wants to change the ground rules and limit the role of dealers, it ought to say so.