As general manager of General Motors' Southeast region, Bill Powell is responsible for improving GM's sales in some of its weakest markets, including southern Florida. Powell spoke with Staff Reporter Joe Miller at the National Automobile Dealers Association convention last week in Orlando, Fla. Edited excerpts:
GM dealers in other areas of the country are demanding the return of the dealer advertising groups GM discontinued last year. How about in the Southeast region?
As you know, there has been a lot of litigation around that. So at this time I really can't make any comment. But most dealers and dealer councils feel they'd like to have that kind of synergy again. That's the opinion they give to me.
Are you trying to get more input from dealers?
Absolutely. We have advisory boards with all brands. They are represented geographically. The dealers in Florida have different challenges than dealers in Tennessee. We try to segment the different input so that we can react accordingly in those different markets with our regional funds.
Are there any other hot spots you have to concentrate on in the Southeast?
Atlanta is definitely complex. GM's market share is in the 20s. It is obviously a very affluent area with lots of competition from the high-line imports. But we've made some pretty good inroads with some new products, especially with the Chevrolet dealer network. The Chevrolet Impala and Malibu are doing well.
Other areas in which we want to be active are parts of the Carolinas - Raleigh-Durham, Charlotte. Those areas are growing pretty rapidly.
Our goal is really pretty simple. We're trying to work after reorganizing (the GM field staff last year), which I believe was the right thing to do. Now it's just a matter of working closely with dealers.
GM says it is moving forward with more projects like the one in the San Fernando Valley, where it would buy dealerships in partnership with dealers.
I don't see that too much in the Southeast. The difference is, you might have to do that where you are underrepresented. We don't have that kind of problem.
Our dealer body is in pretty good shape - the locations, the strength of the dealers, the profitability. So it's really a matter of leveraging ourselves with our activities. And really getting that synergy going and that momentum built.
What is GM's market share in Florida?
It's probably in the mid 20s. But when you get down into southern Florida, you get down in the teens. Everybody, whether it's GM, Ford, Toyota or Honda, has almost equal pieces of the pie. It's a very challenging market.
What would be your first effort in 2000 to boost that share?
In 2000, we're leveraging all the things we do in Florida: the ties to golf promotions, grassroots types of promotions. We'll work with those areas in terms of getting good dealer integration into all marketing activities.