AutoNation was a vision of H. Wayne Huizenga, and it has gone through a lot of changes since it was formed in 1995.
Huizenga and Steve Berrard always stressed that they would never put the AutoNation brand on their dealerships nationwide. I thought that was a mistake, and said so.
Well, now it looks like AutoNation is going to establish the first national dealership brand. It makes a lot of sense, but probably will frustrate the manufacturers more than ever.
In several areas where Detroit-area dealer Mel Farr does business, he spends a lot of time and money promoting his name, which has become a local retail brand. And Mel Farr gets a lot of mileage from his advertising.
With AutoNation fast approaching four hundred dealerships nationwide, it makes perfect sense to promote the retail name first and then worry about Chevrolet or Ford or Toyota.
If AutoNation wants to establish certain characteristics about its stores or selling system, such as its no-dicker sticker philosophy, having a national brand is the way to do it.
It won't be long before other large chains realize the advantage of branding their dealerships, even if it's just to take advantage of national advertising.
That will be another basic conflict between manufacturers and dealers. Factories want more control over their dealers and are trying several approaches to get it. The General Motors' plan to buy up to 10 percent of its retailers is the latest attempt to take control.
On the other hand, dealers and customers would like to see more competing products under one roof. That's because it's easier for shoppers to compare the features and prices of various cars and trucks if they are side by side.
Not too long ago, most appliance manufacturers had their own retail distribution networks, and brands such as Magnavox and Sony were available in exclusive retail stores.
Today, we go to any mass merchandiser and have many brands to choose from. They are right next to each other for easy comparison shopping.
Whether we eventually see more chains like AutoNation with many brands under a single roof or more single-point deals controlled by manufacturers will be sorted out in the future.
In the meantime, we'll probably see plenty of both, as well as some variations.