The news media have been filled with stories about Delphi, General Motors (because of its strategic relationship with Delphi) and the UAW.
The question is whether Delphi and the UAW, with financial assistance from GM, can somehow alter wage, pension and health care costs without the intervention of the Bankruptcy Court in New York.
Strangely, the dealer community is not part of the discussion. Though all three feuding parties rely heavily on dealers, they have failed to realize that dealers are the indispensable ingredient in a settlement.
While GM's buyout and early retirement program has somewhat defused the situation, any settlement between Delphi and the UAW will reverberate throughout the auto industry.
However, my thoughts concern dealers, the lifeblood in the retail distribution chain. Without dealers, what good is an amicable settlement between Delphi and the UAW?
Automobile dealers have much to be concerned about: dealership upgrades, their own employee relations, rising energy costs (particularly gasoline prices) and changes in consumers' buying habits.
In addition, there is concern about the ultimate resolution of the conflict between the automakers, their suppliers and the UAW.
The settlement concern is far more intense for U.S.-based automakers, since most transplant manufacturers have resisted unionization. And most of those that have American plants are in regions of the country with less severe energy requirements.
If the settlement decreed by the Bankruptcy Court is unacceptable to the UAW, a strike against Delphi would be a distinct possibility. A strike means a halt to production -- which has serious financial implications for automobile dealers, particularly if a strike is prolonged.
Parenthetically, a strike would exacerbate current consumer dissatisfaction with the automobile industry as a whole.
Guilt by association
Additionally, dealers may not be able to provide necessary maintenance and repair parts, another serious blow to customer satisfaction.
Consumers have little, if any, contact with auto manufacturers, so dealers will bear the brunt of customer dissatisfaction arising from a strike.
In the final analysis, American automobile dealers are inextricably linked to Delphi, GM and the UAW. And thus, albeit reluctantly, they have been thrown into this mess.
Dealers are less likely to have the financial wherewithal to withstand a prolonged, contentious mudslinging by the three parties. Many dealers will suffer considerable hardship as a result of the conflict. Some may not recover.
The primary participants in this critical management-labor matter must give dealers due consideration. Although dealers are overshadowed by Delphi, GM and the UAW, they are indispensable to the health of the American automobile industry.