DETROIT -- The new chairman of the National Automobile Dealers Association, Ed Tonkin, said today that he will push for Chrysler dealer reinstatements next week when he expects to meet with Chrysler CEO Sergio Marchionne in New York.
Marchionne will be the keynote speaker at a March 30 industry forum co-hosted by NADA.
Tonkin and other NADA officials were in Detroit today to meet with brand executives at Chrysler headquarters in Auburn Hills, Mich.
Tonkin, whose family owns a dealership group in Portland, Ore., said he raised the terminations with Chrysler's brand chiefs in the introductory meeting today. But he declined to discuss details of his meeting.
Instead, he said in-depth talks about the terminations or the arbitration process would have to wait for a meeting with Marchionne.
At a meeting with Automotive News reporters and editors this morning, Tonkin said he was to meet with Chrysler's brand chief Olivier Francois, Dodge CEO Ralph Gilles and Chrysler sales chief Fred Diaz.
At the Automotive News roundtable, Tonkin argued that the "great majority" of terminated Chrysler dealers should be restored.
He said Chrysler's falling market share proves that the dealer terminations were a mistake.
"We want them to agree to reinstate the great majority of dealers," said Tonkin, who also is a lawyer and vice president of the Ron Tonkin Family of Dealerships in Portland. His family owns one Dodge dealership, which was not terminated.
Chrysler spokeswoman Kathy Graham described the Tonkin visit along with other NADA officials as a "meet and greet."
She said Chrysler is addressing dealer cuts through participation in an agreed-upon arbitration process. Graham said it was inaccurate to call Chrysler's dealer cuts terminations because the new Chrysler that emerged from bankruptcy this summer did not offer them new contracts.
Graham said 789 dealers out of 3,181 in business at the time of the bankruptcy were not offered contracts in the new Chrysler. Of that 789, fewer than 400 have filed for arbitration.
Tonkin said any perception that NADA has not fought vigorously to protect dealers from termination is wrong.
NADA President Phillip Brady said the association has made a case privately with the carmakers as well as in advertisements that cutting dealers does not save money and only hurts vehicle sales.
Tonkin said Chrysler has not been transparent about the criteria it used to terminate dealers. GM this month agreed to reinstate 661 of the 1,160 dealerships it had planned to cut. Those not restored can take their case to binding arbitration. Tonkin's family also owns a Chevrolet store, which was not rejected.
Graham said Chrysler has been transparent with its criteria, including revealing details during three days of hearings on the subject during the bankruptcy proceedings.
On the Automotive News list of the 125 largest dealership groups, published today, the Tonkin Family of Dealerships ranks 91st, with 5,145 new retail units sold last year. That's down from 5,842 sales in 2008, when the group ranked 79th.