I attended a meeting in Columbia, S.C., recently at which General Motors Acceptance Corp. presented an encouraging recap of its accomplishments. It showed that GMAC's efforts to buy business for its Platinum Dealers is working.
The unfortunate negative that I brought away from the meeting was the attitude dealers have toward General Motors. Things have turned around completely. The frustration dealers used to feel for GMAC has now turned to disdain for GM.
The dealers at my table had no praise for anything that GM has done in the past several years. I know that this sounds like a bunch of kids complaining just to complain, but these are successful businessmen who have made the selling of GM products their life. They are certainly a part of the success GM has enjoyed over the years.
They spoke of a company that doesn't seem to know what to do to regain market share, repair dealer relations, merchandise the existing products or build the product that people want when they want it.
No one has to look far to see the puzzling decisions of Saturn, Saab, Subaru, Oldsmobile, Aztek, GMBuypower, the Vehicle Order Management System, Project 2000, ad groups. The list goes on. No one but Bill Clinton has so many things to be ashamed of.
What of the future?
What is GM's future under this continued lack of experienced automotive management? It was even said that possibly Toyota could own GM in the next five years.
It hurts to see something that my family has been a part of for more than 50 years in such a bad light. It is an alarm that the board of directors should have heard by now.
Presently, our two domestic competitors are experiencing unfortunate press. Shouldn't we be gearing up to regain market share while the competition is dealing with product and financial issues? Will we let this ripe time pass and miss the opportunity to relieve bloated dealer inventories and reopen plants?
Surely there is a leader out there able to fix the challenges at GM, someone who understands the uniqueness of this beast and could make dealers feel they have a partner in business instead of an adversary. It would be great if Bill Lovejoy, as nice and well-meaning as he is, could make all things better, but that ain't gonna happen.
Action, not words, is the only thing that will fix the problems between GM and its dealers. Therefore, what about GM management? Should there be a leadership change? Many dealers think it's time. GM makes tough decisions all the time, why is this one so hard?
Success is always a function of leadership. My alma mater (University of South Carolina) went 0-11 in football in 1999 but, with the leadership of Lou Holtz, went 8-4 last season and won the Outback Bowl against Ohio State.
We had the same players, but last year we had a highly motivating leader who had the ability to build a team. That is sorely lacking at GM. Dealers cannot be successful without GM, and GM cannot be successful long term without a strong and motivated dealer body.
GM has some talented people who not only understand the car business but also understand dealer needs and how to achieve market share at the expense of the competition. GM employees who work that hard must be as frustrated as the dealers are. Those people continually come up with ideas that get canned by bean counters who don't understand what makes the retail market click.
I hope GM will seize this business opportunity quickly and get first strike at a market begging for a leader. This is not a time to underreact.
Dealers need to see something come from Detroit that will solidify some level of confidence in GM's ability to lead and win once again.
If current methods are not working, GM should at least start listening to the talent it already has. GM should give its Atlanta regional office a call. There are some sharp people with great ideas down there. I'll be glad to provide their names.
Some say that business is bad and the economy is going down the tubes.
I say there is opportunity for those who are up for the challenge.
The time is now for GM to prove that it can again be a winner and leader in the automotive industry. We can only hope that someone at GM will see the importance of market share as well as price per share.