Two sets of initials - F&I and CSI - generated a lot of discussion at a dealer panel discussion Friday.
Actually, add a third batch of initials: NBC.
The Dec. 5 "Dateline NBC" report criticizing car-financing practices in dealerships clearly struck a nerve. But most panelists at the J.D. Power and Associates International Automotive Roundtable said they had not changed procedures at their stores in the wake of the show.
John Bergstrom, CEO of Bergstrom Automotive in Neenah, Wis., said the show focused on atypical F&I practices: "Clearly a few have shadowed the mass."
Fritz Hitchcock, chairman of Hitchcock Automotive Resources in City of Industry, Calif., said the show did not prompt him to change practices, "but I sure did give it a pretty good review." Bert Boeckmann, owner of Galpin Motors Inc. in North Hills, Calif., and Dave Conant, president of Conant Auto Retail Group in Cerritos, Calif., said they required F&I staff to watch a tape of the segment.
"I think the good part is they didn't identify with it," Boeckmann said.
Conant said that his group has capped profits on F&I items to prevent abuses. Roger Burdick, president of Burdick Automotive in Syracuse, N.Y., said he also has capped profits, adding that "our people felt good" about their practices after the report.
Despite efforts to simplify customer satisfaction index surveys and some complaints about their use to determine dealer performance bonuses, panelists did not voice major objections to the basic concept.
George McCabe, executive vice president of Planet Automotive in Miami, said his experience as a former Mazda executive taught him the value of CSI: "There was a direct link between having very good scores and having repeat business."
Conant did not dispute the point but said dealers feel buried under paperwork.
"At times the administrative burden is so heavy, I think it's counterproductive," Conant said.
Dealers were split on the value of the code of ethics promoted by NADA.
Bergstrom said the ethical tone of a dealership is set by how management conducts itself: "I don't think it (the NADA code) could be a universal 10 commandments."
Hitchcock said the NADA effort got the industry thinking about ethics, but follow-through is up to individual dealers.
"I think it set a bar," he said. "Is it enforceable? Absolutely not."