Some people think the tough dealer protection law signed May 6 by New Hampshire Gov. John Lynch and the one waiting to be signed in neighboring Vermont by Gov. James Douglas are mostly symbolic.
Critics argue that the new laws won't stop Chrysler, which is in bankruptcy and pretty much can whack whatever dealership it wants. The smart money figures General Motors will be in Chapter 11 soon and have a free hand eliminating about 2,600 dealerships.
To some, dealers pushing for the new laws seem like minutemen fighting the latest war with obsolete muskets.
Not so fast, says Roger Groux, a Nissan and Honda dealer in Stratham, N.H. The new laws are about fighting the next war -- if and when Chrysler and GM come back with new franchise agreements for dealers to sign.
Groux is a director of the New Hampshire Automobile Dealers Association, which led the campaign for the tougher bill. He told me GM likely will want to re-contract its dealers with a complex 250-page document resembling the Saturn franchise agreement.
Any new franchise agreements must comply with the New Hampshire law, which was effective immediately after being signed. The law, which amended requirements for operating or closing a motor vehicle franchise, will give dealers a softer landing when going out of business by requiring more from the factories by way of buybacks and other payments.
Dealers in Vermont worked with their legislature for more than a year -- before the situation became so grim for GM and Chrysler -- to do a major rewrite of that state's franchise law for the first time in nearly a quarter of a century. The tough times helped generate support, says Marilyn Miller, executive director of the Vermont Automobile Dealers Association.
Miller told me the 52-page bill, which gives dealers more rights and restricts factories, had to go through eight committees in the Statehouse. After the governor signs it, as expected, the Vermont bill becomes effective July 1.
Just in time for the next war.