WASHINGTON -- It has been a time-consuming, yearlong campaign for Jack Fitzgerald as he has fought to win back franchises taken from him in last year's Chrysler and General Motors restructurings. The campaign isn't over yet, but the 74-year-old dealer is seeing results.
Last week, Fitzgerald -- a leader of the rejected-dealer group that pushed for the new arbitration law -- won reinstatement of his Chrysler-Jeep dealership in Florida. This week he has an arbitration hearing scheduled in Maryland for four more dealerships rejected by Chrysler Group.
Earlier, Fitzgerald came to terms with General Motors Co. to maintain two of his dealerships that had been on the automaker's wind-down list.
The decision in Florida on Wednesday, June 2, was the second in which an arbitrator has challenged Chrysler Group's business plan. But Fitzgerald credits the people who bought vehicles at his dealership for the victory.
"Our customers won it for us," said Fitzgerald, who had support from consumer advocates in the arbitration hearing. That support was acknowledged by the arbitrator in his decision.
The arbitrator held that it was not in the public interest for Chrysler to close Fitzgerald's Countryside Chrysler-Jeep in a plan to pare the automaker's network to two dealerships in the affluent Clearwater, Fla., area.
Chrysler had argued that its economic success depends on its ability to streamline its dealer network and house all its brands in each dealership -- a strategy known as Project Genesis.
Fitzgerald's store was not a Genesis dealership, and there are two other Genesis stores nearby.
In more than a dozen cases since April, arbitrators have deferred to Chrysler's Genesis plan in ruling against rejected dealers' bids for reinstatement. "The ruling goes to the heart of Chrysler's cases," said Fitzgerald's lawyer, John Forehand, of Tallahassee, Fla.
Last summer Fitzgerald, who pilots his own plane between the dealerships in Florida and Maryland, founded the Committee to Restore Dealer Rights along with fellow dealers Tammy Darvish and Alan Spitzer.
The group, which represents rejected Chrysler and GM dealerships in lobbying Congress, supplied much of the political horsepower that led to the arbitration bill signed into law in December by President Barack Obama.