General Motors spent last year in conflict with dealers, defending its vehicle-ordering system and a radical plan, later dropped, to buy 770 of its dealerships.
But two weeks ago in Orlando, Fla., Chairman Jack Smith took responsibility for GM's poor relations with dealers and promised to do better. The turnaround was sudden and dramatic.
Now, new CEO Rick Wagoner is explaining just what lay behind GM's new perspective on dealers.
He said some dangers, which seemed significant last year, have subsided.
'There has been a lot of change in the business, and we've been pushing in the way that we thought made the most sense for the competitive threats that we saw,' he said.
GM worried last year that major chains, such as AutoNation Inc., might become so powerful that Chevrolet, for example, would simply become one of many brands on its shelf. Why stock the Cavalier if you know the Honda Civic and Ford Focus are selling better?
Moreover, Internet buying services, such as Autobytel.com, threatened to turn car shopping into a simple pricing exercise, undermining the automakers' expensive brand building.
But now, Wagoner is less worried about last year's bullies.
'Based on the latest input, it looks like some of the threats that we saw are taking different forms,' he said.
For instance, AutoNation, the largest dealer chain in the United States, has dramatically slowed growth.
And GM is now in a much better position to fight the Internet buying services and wants to work with dealers to use the Internet, said spokesman Tony Cervone.
GM BuyPower, GM's consumer Web site, is gaining momentum, and GM is using its own data to better reach consumers, he said.