Last week's squeaker of a presidential election wasn't the only curious political development of 2000.
This year, dealers prompted 20 state legislatures to pass bills that either restricted factory stores or tightened existing controls. That leaves just six states without restrictions.
The restrictions - plus the mistrust and fear that prompted them - are repercussions from the ill-begotten efforts by Ford Motor Co. and General Motors to buy factory stores. Dealers clearly saw this as a threat, yet the factories did not consult their own dealers adequately before barging ahead.
Since Ford and GM suspended their plans to acquire and consolidate dealerships, the atmosphere has improved somewhat. But the wounds will take a long time to heal.
Harold Wells, chairman of the National Automobile Dealers Association, summed it up well: 'The factory stores' initiatives broke a fundamental trust between dealers and manufacturers and directly threatened the franchise system.'
It is regrettable because although the factory store issue now seems dead, there are thorny issues that still must be resolved, such as the ultimate role of the Internet in retail sales. The factories must remember two things: Before trying to impose your will on dealers, consult them like partners. And never underestimate their strength and political clout.