'Will we never learn?'
More than half the Big 3 dealers who responded to the survey disapproved of last summer's sales blowout, although many acknowledge it was effective in moving vehicles off their lots.
Dealers hated last year's blowout because the factory's predetermined employee price left scant profit for the dealer. And when the incentives ended in September, showroom traffic dried up.
So it's no surprise that two-thirds of the survey's respondents oppose a return of employee-discount deals this year. Nearly seven of every 10 dealers said they would prefer some other incentive, such as 0 percent financing.
"The manufacturers should remember the hangover after employee pricing," wrote a dealer who did not give his name or store location.
"We did no business for three months, and the manufacturers admitted that employee pricing destroyed the market. Will we never learn from our past?"
Not everyone thought that last summer's sales blowout was bad, though. And some dealers said they would be OK with a return of the deals, just as long as they don't last too long.
"I think the employee sale last year was a good idea, but should have been limited to 30 days," wrote Bernie Kitts of Lexus of Rockville in Rockville, Md. "By extending the program twice, it lost its credibility and uniqueness."
But some respondents question whether even 0 percent financing is enough these days to motivate shoppers.
"Zero percent for 60 and 72 months has lost its drive," wrote Ford dealer Mike O'Dell. A common theme among surveyed dealers was a desire for more cash -- in the form of customer or dealer rebates -- to help buyers get out of their current vehicles.
"Why are dealers no longer making the deal?" asked Tim Urness of C.H. Urness Motor Co. in The Dalles, Ore., which has Chrysler and Dodge franchises. "Consumers are hooked on gimmicks. Give the dealers some cash and let us do what we do -- sell cars."
Big 3 dealers also want the factories to cut production. Sixty-one percent of Big 3 survey respondents said the factory was pressuring them to take vehicles they did not want.
"Until the Big 3 produce one car less than the public wants, this will go on until they go broke," wrote dealer Chris Duane of Salerno Duane Automotive Group in Summit, N.J. "That is, unless the dealers go broke first."
The group sells Chrysler, Jeep and Ford vehicles.
Not bad for everyone
Survey respondents who hold Honda, Acura, Toyota or Lexus franchises see a different challenge this summer: getting more vehicles.
An overwhelming majority of those dealers who responded -- 82.4 percent -- opposed an employee-pricing sale.
The Japanese brand imports did not participate in last summer's employee-price sales blitz.
More than half those dealers surveyed said they don't want any other type of summer sales program, such as 0 percent financing.
Inventories are smaller
The majority of those Japanese brand dealers surveyed said they had between 30 and 45 days worth of inventory on their lots. That's a sharp contrast with dealers with Big 3 franchises, many of whom have more than 100 days worth of vehicles.
But Nissan dealers would like some help. The majority of those dealers who responded to the survey said they had at least a 60-day supply of vehicles, and many had 70 days or more.
The majority of those Nissan dealers opposed an employee-pricing sale but did want some other big program, such as 0 percent financing.
"My concern is Nissan's move and how they will react to a sales slowdown," wrote one Nissan dealer, who did not give his name.
"In the past they just stuck their heads in the sand and waited it out. Dealers lost market share, customers and money. They can't do it this time. Toyota is going to be a very, very tough act to keep up with."
You may e-mail Dale Jewett at [email protected]