With most federal dealer problems behind them, General Motors Co.'s new lobbyists are shifting their focus to blocking state bills that seek to assist rejected dealerships.
Legislation in Ohio, Missouri and Kentucky tops the priority list, says Robert Ferguson, GM's vice president of government relations.
"Some legislation is far too prescriptive in limiting our ability to operate a good dealer network," Ferguson, the No. 2 lobbyist in GM's 20-person Washington office, said in an interview.
Ferguson, 50, who started at GM on Jan. 1, worked for CEO Ed Whitacre for 15 years when both were at Southwestern Bell and AT&T.
GM's new top Washington lobbyist, John Montford, 66, is a senior adviser to Whitacre who also worked with the GM chief at the telecommunications companies. Montford and Ferguson replaced Ken Cole on Jan. 1.
Much of the state legislation under consideration is a backlash against the thousands of dealership cuts made by GM and Chrysler Group last spring.
Bills in Missouri and Kentucky would give rejected dealers the first shot at a new franchise being awarded in the dealer's former market. Passage of similar legislation is considered likely in Colorado.
In Ohio, a pending bill would require automakers to give 12 months' notice for terminations. Terminated dealerships also would be reimbursed for investments and upgrades.
"The states really have our attention," Ferguson said. "If something isn't in GM's interest, we're going to be very aggressive in every jurisdiction."
GM also devoted a lot of attention recently to trying to block a Massachusetts bill that would make it possible for drivers to get warranty work done on their cars at repair shops instead of by the dealer. That bill passed the Massachusetts House but is bottled up in the Senate.
GM is asking employees and retirees in the affected states to contact their lawmakers. The UAW may pitch in, Ferguson said.
The company also plans to spend $50,000 on newspaper ads opposing the legislation in Kentucky, GM spokesman Greg Martin said. GM has spent $60,000 on ads in Colorado in an attempt to influence the legislation there.