Car dealers are easy to please. Give them hot new products, and they will be happy.
Dealers who have new products want the factories to keep them coming. Dealers who don't have new products are anxiously awaiting them.
Don Hicks of Shortline Automotive Inc. (Subaru-Hyundai-Suzuki) of Aurora, Colo., represents the haves.
"Our No. 1 issue right now, in the short run, is availability of the hot models, like Forester," says Hicks, who heads the Subaru National Dealer Council. "The Forester, nobody knows how well we can do with that, because nobody's ever had enough."
Carl Fischer, who owns Carl's Suburban (Buick-Pontiac-GMC) in Stuart, Fla., represents the have-nots. Asked to give the top three issues for Buick dealers, he listed "product" three times.
Says Fischer, who is chairman of the Buick National Dealer Council: "We're still only selling four models — all of them sedans. And they are all long in the tooth."
In the pipeline
Ed Williamson II, who has served on Saturn's Franchise Operations Team for the past two years, also listed "product" as that franchise's top three issues. Both Saturn and Buick will have partial relief in the form of new sport-utilities — technically, sport wagons — coming this year. The 2002 Saturn Vue goes on sale this fall, and the Buick Rendezvous is expected to arrive about May 1.
Williamson, who runs Williamson Automotive Group in Miami, says, "I think the Vue is going to get good marks. It's going to do well for us."
Fischer says, "The Rendezvous will be a nice addition for us. I've driven one and think it's dynamite."
Paul Sansone Jr. of Sansone's Route 1 Auto Mall (Mazda-Lincoln-Mercury-Nissan-Suzuki-Hyundai-Toyota) in Avenel, N.J., says product remains a concern for Mazda dealers, despite the success of their new sport-utility, the Tribute.
"All our hard work hasn't resulted in the sales volume we would have hoped for," says Sansone, who is Mazda Dealer Council chairman. "We haven't had that success yet. You work hard, and you want to get the payoff. We haven't seen the fruits of our labors yet."
But Mazda dealers remain hopeful. "The product is in the pipeline, and we are staying aggressive in the market," Sansone says.
Wanted: Star power
Of course, when dealers say they want product, what they mean is they want hot product: Vehicles that are the equivalent of having NHL forward Mario Lemieux in their lineups.
Multiline Atlanta dealer Mark Hennessy, who is stepping down as chairman of the Cadillac National Dealer Council, says dealers who handle the luxury brand are still frustrated, despite new products such as the Escalade and Evoq.
"Customers are looking for originality and, since 1990, Cadillac merely has been trying to catch up instead of trying to lead" Hennessy says.
His solution? "Cadillac needs to create a new niche, like we did with the small luxury sedan in '76. We very well might see it."
Infiniti dealers, who are up-and-comers compared to Cadillac, are in a similar situation.
"We're not seeing the type of return that our primary competitors are, and we've just come through one of the best periods of time within that segment," says Warren Henry Zinn of Warren Henry Infiniti in Miami. "The reasons, I think, are simply the product. And it's an excellent product," says Zinn, who heads the Infiniti Dealer Advisory Board. "The service that we provide is excellent. The frequency of repair is virtually ... well, there is none. It's merely the product and it's desirability. We need to have something that is unique and stands on its own."
Chevrolet National Dealer Council Chairman Mike Shaw says dealers have been happy with their trucks but still could use help on the car side. "Top dealer concerns are product, communication and trust," says Shaw, who owns Mike Shaw Buick-Chevrolet-Saab in Denver. "It all boils down to product."