Let's look at some of those ideas.
The distributor system actually worked for a long time in the domestic industry. The manufacturer appointed the distributor, and the distributor chose his dealers. The dealers ordered their cars through the distributor, which received an extra 1 or 2 percentage points of discount for handling the transactions.
The system lived on at Cadillac until the 1960s, when the division joined the rest of the domestic brands in adopting a direct dealer setup.
It survives today with some of the imports -- Toyota and Subaru, for example. A drawback is that it places an extra tier of officialdom between the factory and the dealer.
When Daewoo entered the United States in 1998, it sold its cars through 15 factory-owned stores and through college students working on commission on campus. Those arrangements didn't last long. When Daewoo bowed out in 2002, it had 525 franchised dealers.
In 1984, Porsche's Peter Schutz and Jack Cook had a plan: Dealers would no longer be independent businessmen; they would be agents of Porsche Cars North America and would receive a specified fee (8 percent) for selling a new car. No more bargaining with the customer. No more dealer sales or marketing promotions. In effect, no more dealerships.
Cooler heads prevailed, and the idea never got off the ground.
Cooler heads did not prevail -- at least not at first -- when Ford Motor Co. decided to invade dealers' turf in 1997. The idea behind the Ford Retail Network was to consolidate dealerships in 130 markets, with Ford as a minority shareholder in the businesses.
Forget that dream of 130 markets. The Ford Retail Network, later named the Auto Collection, was established in five -- Oklahoma City and Tulsa, Okla.; Rochester, N.Y.; Salt Lake City; and San Diego -- unsuccessfully.
Dealers were infuriated. They were afraid that the factory-owned stores would get special treatment. Dealer associations lobbied state legislatures for restrictions, and by 2000, most states had barred automakers from owning dealerships.
Ford ended its retail initiative in 2001.
Through the years, General Motors has been the most progressive and, in some cases, the most regressive in factory-dealer relations. The latter came to a head in the fall of 1955 in hearings chaired by Sen. Joseph O'Mahoney, D-Wyo.
GM dealer after GM dealer took the witness stand and excoriated GM for real and imagined indignities perpetrated against him and against his business.
The dealers relied on the Senate mantle to protect them from the retribution they could have expected if they had spoken elsewhere or earlier.
The hearings led to the dealer day-in-court law. Much more important, they brought a new and more liberal GM franchise agreement in March 1956, during what came to be known in the corporation as "be-nice-to-dealers year." Other automakers copied GM's document.
Smith said no
So much for the past. It didn't stop GM from almost jumping into a retail caldron about a half-century later.
GM apparently wasn't paying much attention to the foofaraw involving the Ford Retail Network.
On Sept. 27, 1999, GM told dealers that GM Retail Holdings would buy up to 10 percent of GM's 7,700 U.S. dealerships. It was an effort to stem the growing influence of public dealership groups and the Internet.
That October, Automotive News Editor Peter Brown interviewed GM CEO Jack Smith. Brown asked about GM Retail Holdings.
"Well, we're not going to have factory stores," Smith said.
He said GM was not going to buy the stores and was not going to run them. The plan was dead, he declared.
And that was that.
There have been other assaults on the franchise system, of course, but each one has failed as completely as those noted here.
The system has been around for a century. Its prospects for the next century are bright.
You may e-mail John K. Teahen Jr. at [email protected]