Ron Tonkin battled U.S. automakers 19 years ago as a fiery president of the National Automobile Dealers Association. Now, hes offering ideas to save them.
Tonkin last week sent a letter to the Detroit 3 CEOs asking them to call for President George W. Bush to arrange a $2,500 tax credit for consumers who purchase a new Detroit 3 vehicle before the end of 2008. Tonkin owns a 17-store dealership group bearing his name, but less than 20 percent of his stores sell domestic vehicles.
Domestic dealers problems, Tonkin wrote in the letter, stem from false public perception that Detroit 3 products are of lower quality than those from foreign automakers. The tax credit would get customers in the showroom, keeping Detroit 3 employees at work, he wrote.
In response to the letter, GM spokesman Greg Martin said GM needs to keep its options open. Tonkins letter had passion and recognition of the industrys economic contribution, he said. We hope that translates to support in the industry to help to bridge these difficult economic times.
As part of his 1989 NADA presidency, Tonkin founded the Rough Riders, a group of dealers that protested fleet subsidies and encouraged dealers to decrease inventories to send automakers a message.
His work prompted a 16-month anti-trust investigation by the U.S. Justice Department, which said the Tonkin-led NADA had promoted conspiracy in interstate commerce. The investigation ended in a settlement in which NADA admitted no wrongdoing, but agreed to Justice Department monitoring.
Tonkins dealership group of 17 stores ranks No. 81 on Automotive News list of top dealers with 9,267 new vehicles sold and $466 million in revenue in 2007.