The current squabble among dealers over the campaign to restore General Motors and Chrysler dealerships is perplexing. At issue are the legislation that would restore dealerships that got the ziggy when Chrysler and GM restructured and what kind of nonlegislative remedy might be appropriate.
The key elements involve politics, haves vs. have-nots, factory pressure and diverse business interests.
When such strong dealers as Jack Fitzgerald and Tammy Darvish are at odds with the National Automobile Dealers Association, you know it's a mess.
It made me wonder: How and why is this struggle different from what happened when GM whacked Oldsmobile and dealers seemed to rise up, unite and confront a common adversary?
So I called Florida dealer Alan Starling, who sees the world clearly and has always been upfront with me.
Starling, a former NADA director who was the group's chairman in 2003, was the most vocal leader during the Oldsmobile episode. As an NADA director and a second-generation Chevrolet-Oldsmobile dealer, Starling witnessed it up close and personal -- from when the decision to kill Oldsmobile was announced in December 2000 to when the division finally keeled over in 2004.
Starling doesn't have any skin in this fight. He gave back his Chrysler franchises before the old Chrysler filed for bankruptcy; his Chevrolet dealerships are ongoing, and he's no longer an NADA director.
The difference this time? The government, Starling says.
He still says the Oldsmobile caper was wrongheaded and happened because GM was flush with cash.
They did it because they could, he says.
This time Starling is convinced that the Obama administration's task force dictated terms.
They did it because they could.
But it nets out the same. "A fatality in the family, whether it's from a heart attack or a car crash, is still a death,'' Starling says.
Even though his dealerships are survivors, he puts all of the industry's changes in perspective.
Says Starling: "You're only one letter away from extinction."