LAS VEGAS -- For dealers attending the BMW make meeting, it was all about listening to the new CEO talk about improving communications -- and assuring them no bonus programs will be cut.
It was the calmest dealer meeting BMW has had in three or four years, said Damon Shelly, owner of Irvine BMW and Irvine Mini in Irvine, Calif., and Shelly BMW in Buena Park, Calif. BMW has had a rocky relationship with its dealers for several years because of cuts in bonuses and other payment programs.
The meeting was attended by BMW of North America's top executives, but Ludwig Willisch, CEO since October, did most of the talking. "I told them we are in this together, the dealers and BMW N.A. I said this because they had some impression that this was not always the case."
BMW is looking at how it can better measure customer satisfaction with individual dealerships so stores are not penalized but customer concerns are recorded, Willisch said. "It isn't about getting a better score but about improving our relationship with the dealers."
Shelly said changes to customer satisfaction criteria are being discussed with the BMW National Dealer Forum. Shelly is the chairman.
"We are refocusing it to make sure we are going down the right path," said Gregory Markus, manager of center development for BMW.
BMW is trying to boost its satisfaction scores on J.D. Power and Associates surveys where it has lagged behind other import luxury brands. "We want to be in the same area as other premium brands in J.D. Power as soon as possible," Willisch said.
BMW won't change its "Center of Excellence," designation for stores that excel in a range of areas, including customer satisfaction. Marks said only 31 of BMW's 337 stores get the award.
Shelly said dealers also bluntly asked BMW management if it was "committed to the current bonus structure."
"We were told there won't be any changes," Shelly said. "Dealers are always nervous when those things are taken away."
Willisch also said BMW will grow in 2012 but said he wouldn't give dealers a specific target. Last year BMW sold 247,907 vehicles. Insiders said BMW is certain it will again beat Mercedes-Benz and Lexus because of vehicles launches this year.