DETROIT -- A South Carolina Ford dealer is telling Congress in radio commercials that members need to do more than lend money to automakers in order to revive the domestic auto industry. His spots also chide consumers for buying import brands and shopping at Wal-Mart.
O.C. Welch, owner of O.C. Welch Ford-Lincoln-Mercury near Hilton Head, S.C., aired the ads last weekend. He urges Congress to do three things to stimulate U.S. auto sales and help struggling dealers at the same time:
1. Work with state governments to institute a 30-day sales tax holiday on new-car purchases.
2. Allow taxpayers to deduct vehicle finance charges on their income tax returns.
3. Institute a cash for clunkers incentive that would give consumers a credit for turning in an old vehicle and buying something new.
My whole message is we have to do something about the economy, Welch said. We cant just do something about the Big 3. If the Big 3 get this bailout money and nothing changes about the economy, it means nothing.
In a commercial called Wake Up America, Welch tells consumers that if they buy foreign-brand cars and shop at Wal-Mart, they are part of the problem. Of Japanese cars, he says: How come they dont smell like a new car? All those cars are rice ready, not road ready.
Welch said hes not telling consumers what they should buy. But he wants them to connect the state of the economy and disappearing jobs with declining American manufacturing.
When are you going to wake up, all you import buyers, all you Wal-Mart shoppers? he says in one of the commercials. When are you going to wake up and do something for the United States of America?
The spots have attracted attention and controversy. Welch said he has been on CNN and has declined overtures from Fox News and the BBC. The Associated Press and local TV also have covered the ads.
About 94 percent of the attention has been positive, Welch said. Shoppers at his dealership are mentioning the commercials, and traffic seems to be picking up, he said. The radio spots were a $2,000 buy, a tiny fraction of his $1.1 million annual advertising budget.
But business is still tough: Welch said he expects his stores revenue will come in at less than $60 million this year, down from $160 million in 2004.