WASHINGTON -- The No. 2 U.S. Senate Democrat urged General Motors Co. and Chrysler Group to negotiate a compromise about dealership closings with four dealer groups representing the affected stores,including the most aggressive dealer-rights advocate.
That group, the Committee to Restore Dealer Rights, has been shunned by the two automakers. It represents about 2,000 rejected GM and Chrysler dealerships.
Senate Majority Whip Richard Durbin, D-Ill., sent letters to GM CEO Fritz Henderson and Chrysler CEO Sergio Marchionne urging their companies “to participate in a constructive dialogue with the key groups” representing affected dealerships.
His Sept. 14 letter then named the groups: the National Automobile Dealers Association, the Automotive Trade Association Executives, the National Association of Minority Automobile Dealers and the Committee to Restore Dealer Rights.
GM has previously expressed a willingness to talk only with NADA, saying it represents all dealerships. The automaker reiterated that preference today.
“We believe the NADA remains the best channel for discussions as they represent all dealers,” GM spokesman Greg Martin said.
Chrysler was more conciliatory. A company spokesperson said today that Chrysler is willing to meet with the Committee as part of the negotiations.
“We have been in contact with the senator's office and are available to discuss with the principal parties involved the benefits of a realigned and efficient dealer network to the Chrysler Group,” the spokesperson said. “We also are open to discussion on all of the relevant issues with regard to the discontinued dealers.”
Durbin has been trying to schedule talks that involve the dealer groups, the automakers, several lawmakers that have been advocates for the dealers, and the Obama administration's auto task force.
No date has been set for the first meeting, a Durbin spokesman said.
The talks are intended as an alternative to legislation that would reverse Chrysler's shuttering of 789 dealerships and GM's plan to close 1,350 stores by October 2010.
The legislation passed the House this summer but stalled in the Senate.
Jack Fitzgerald, a Kensington, Md., dealer who helps lead the Committee, said GM would eventually have to buckle and agree to talk with the group.
“I'm sorry to hear that GM is balking at talking with us, but if Senator Durbin wants that to change, I don't think GM can keep refusing,” he said.
As for Chrysler's willingness to talk with the Committee, Fitzgerald said, “That's a first step, isn't it?”
NADA spokesman David Hyatt did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
The Committee had offered repeatedly over the summer to meet with the two automakers to discuss a compromise.
GM refused, and Chrysler ignored the group's overtures, said dealer Tamara Darvish of Silver Spring, Md., another leader of the Committee.
The Committee had organized a grassroots dealer lobbying campaign this summer that led to House passage of the legislation.
Compromise talks were delayed for months while NADA and the Committee feuded on what kind of compromise to propose. The Automotive Trade Association Executives and the National Association of Minority Automobile Dealers sided with NADA.
The dispute burst into the open last month when the two groups submitted differing proposals to lawmakers.
The groups finally came together with a unified proposal earlier this month.
It calls for GM and Chrysler to disclose the criteria used to pick dealerships for rejection and to reinstate any stores that exceeded the standards. A dealer not restored could appeal to an arbitration panel.
Their proposal also would require closed dealerships to be paid $3,000 per unit for vehicles sold in 2006, 2007 or 2008, with the dealer picking the year.