If anyone has a personal interest in the shifting market shares of the Big 3 and their import competitors, it is Texas megadealer Ramsay Gillman.
With nearly $400 million in sales, Gillman Cos. ranked No. 35 on the list of the nation's largest auto retail chains last year by Automotive News. Gillman, who was president of the National Automobile Dealers Association in 1997, spoke from his office in Houston with Staff Reporter Lindsay Chappell.
What's going through your mind when you're investing in retail stores, as you have been lately?
First, I want to know what the economy is doing. And then if I'm going to build new showrooms, I want to know specifically where this market decline we keep hearing about is going to come from. If Mitsubishi and Honda are going to gain market share during a down year, my assumption is their growth is going to come out of the Big 3 brands.
You have a diversified portfolio of stores. Does a market share shift affect you?
It comes down to sales. And you can only listen to what the manufacturer tells you.
If Mitsubishi tells me they're going to increase their business another 25 or 30 percent over the next five years - but they're only going to increase their dealer body by 10 percent - that math looks pretty good to me. Out of that 10 percent increase in dealers, I'm going to get part of it, because they've said they want to work with their existing dealer body. Well, somebody is going to get more sales per outlet out of all this. And that's me. If I can increase my sales per outlet without increasing my costs, I've made more money.
As you think of investing more in retailing, what products are you wishing you had?
I'd like to see Honda with a domestically produced pickup of some sort. Another light truck. I'd like to see Mitsubishi with an upscale light-duty pickup truck, and I believe that's possible, given Mitsubishi's alliance with DaimlerChrysler now.
I'm assuming we eventually will get those products. Of course, when we do, it can only further impair the Big 3.
Do you have any doubt about the ability of the Japanese to crack the big-pickup segment?
I believe the consumers of America are hungry for competition for the Dodge-Chevrolet-Ford full-sized models, for the Ford F-150 and extended-cab trucks. What we've seen from Toyota and what we'll see from Nissan is going to be good for the marketplace.