Having spent years running dealerships and even working as a car salesman, Ludwig Willisch, BMW of North America's new CEO, figures he can repair BMW's bruised relations with its U.S. retailers.
Willisch, who has been in the job since Oct. 1, says he wants to have "the most satisfied customers and to be the most motivated team" in the luxury car segment. To get there, BMW must include dealers in its decisions.
"It is not us and them," he says. "It should be us -- everyone."
Willisch, 55, a German-born executive, climbed the BMW ranks for 15 years. He speaks nearly flawless English, has a dry wit and races cars as a hobby. He replaced Jim O'Donnell, the feisty Scot who retired last summer.
O'Donnell led BMW of North America through the recession. To cut costs he slashed lease volume, reduced incentive spending and cut the warranty labor reimbursement. He also lowered the base dealer margin and made dealer bonuses harder to earn.
The changes angered dealers who complained about a lack of communication with the factory. BMW has ranked near the bottom in the National Automobile Dealers Association's Dealer Attitude Survey in recent years. The twice-yearly survey measures dealers' satisfaction with their manufacturers' policies, field and headquarters staff and franchise value.
On the question of how well dealer input is considered, BMW and Mini ranked last in the winter 2011 attitude survey, according to NADA.