Jim Willingham, chairman of the National Automobile Dealers Association, started last year with a conciliatory approach to the factories.
But Ford Motor Co. and General Motors answered NADA with greater attempts to control retail operations.
Nevertheless, Willingham last week assured members attending the NADA convention in Orlando, Fla., that the association had made progress in industry relations efforts under his watch.
He said the organization's new, aggressive stand against factory stores led GM and Ford to curtail their factory-controlled retail operations.
'GM is going forward with the program (General Motors Retail Holdings),' Willingham said. 'But thanks to the strong voice of the dealers and ongoing dialogue with NADA, the program appears to be greatly scaled back at this point. And whatever it does in the future, GM has promised to consider dealer input.'
GM said last fall it planned to buy up to 10 percent of its dealers, but it later killed the idea.
Ford assured NADA that a dealer would be its only channel for selling cars in the future.
'Ford now says it is returning to its original mission to have auto collections as a learning laboratory for new retail ideas,' Willingham said. Auto collections are Ford's dealership consolidations in five U.S. markets.
NADA held more than 100 meetings with manufacturers, particularly GM and Ford.
'NADA drummed home the need for meaningful dealer input before new programs are unveiled,' Willingham said. He added the association would take a strong stand against any factory that competes unfairly with its own dealers.
Willingham also lambasted any Web site that circumvents dealers, whether the site belongs to a factory or an online auto broker.
To answer this threat, NADA is launching an online shopping site designed to improve dealers' relationships with retail customers.
'The Internet initiative is a giant step toward helping dealers take control of our e-commerce destiny,' Willingham said.
'While the Web is a great way to reach a new generation of technology-savvy consumers, it is not a replacement for dealers.'