In their comments this year at the Consumer Bankers Association Automobile Finance Conference in Orlando, Fla., dealers were unusually kind to bankers. But they were tough on the automakers, especially DaimlerChrysler, Ford Motor Co. and General Motors.
Captive finance companies also took a few hits during a panel discussion with three Florida dealers.
The captives this year sent smaller groups than usual to the conference, or did not attend. Ford Motor Credit Co., its Primus subsidiary, and Toyota Financial Services were exceptions.
The dealers on the panel were:
Pete DeVita, general manager of Mercedes-Benz of Orlando, an AutoNation store
Alan Starling, president of Holiday Chevrolet in St. Cloud and Saturn of Tallahassee
Bill Long, president of Tampa Hondaland and Brandon Honda in Tampa, Fla.
Past dealer panels at the conference have had a stronger dealers-vs.-bankers tone. In previous years panelists criticized banks for quitting auto lending when times got tough. Banks in turn criticized the dealers for switching lenders at the drop of a hat in search of the best deal.
This year banks were especially vulnerable to the 'fair-weather friend' charge, since several big banks have pulled back on auto finance - especially in leasing - since last summer. In light of that, the criticism from the dealers this year was gentle. All said they value consistency on the part of the banks.
Mark Pregmon, the banker who moderated the panel, asked questions about the banker-dealer relationship but also bore in on dealer-manufacturer issues. Pregmon is a senior vice president at SunTrust Banks Inc. in Atlanta.
'What is your biggest issue with an automaker?' Pregmon asked the group.
'Let me start off by saying that 90 days ago I was an Olds dealer,' replied Starling. GM has announced it is killing Oldsmobile.
Long, the Honda dealer, said factories are a threat to dealers by trying to set up factory stores or by trying to bypass dealers on the Internet.
'When we start competing with our own manufacturer, we've got problems. They keep coming up with ways to get the dealers fired up,' he said.
Other panel excerpts are on this page.