Last year General Motors greatly increased its lobbying efforts to change franchise laws in several states.
Dealers were irked. They feared GM wanted to change the laws so it could operate factory stores and sell vehicles directly to consumers over the Internet and bypass dealers.
Roy Roberts, GM group vice president of North American vehicle sales, service and marketing, denied that was GM's strategy.
In any case, now the company says it is sorry for the confusion and promises to work with its dealers first and then approach state legislatures with those dealers.
'We want to work together toward legislation which is right for our mutual benefit,' Roberts said. 'We want to sit with our dealers, talk to our dealers.'
Roberts revealed GM's change of heart in Orlando. It was part of a larger initiative by Chairman Jack Smith to mend fences with dealers.
Last year, Roberts said: 'There were rumors coming back that we were saying bad things about dealers. I don't know if we did or not. I hope we didn't.
'We were working, truly working, to make sure that we kept a level playing field for us to do business in states.'
GM is afraid some state laws allow Internet companies and megadealer groups to buy GM dealerships and take over entire markets to the detriment of GM and its dealers, Roberts said. Those laws do not give a manufacturer final say on who can buy a dealership.
Outgoing NADA Chairman Jim Willingham agreed that is a problem.
GM will not end its lobbying efforts in 2000.
'When we work together, the manufacturer and the dealers will always come up with a better solution,' he said.