NEW ORLEANS -- Icy weather in the Deep South prevented Infiniti's management team from traveling to the annual make meeting here. Although an NADA representative informed dealers at the meeting room doorway that the meeting would not take place, a full roomful of retailers pressed ahead, eager to discuss a new dealer-margin system that launched Jan. 1.
"The new margin system is going to help get us through this rebuilding year," said Matt Gunderson, chairman of Infiniti's national dealer advisory board, who conducted the gathering while clarifying that he was not speaking on behalf of the factory.
The margin program will take until early April to take full effect, he said, with dealers earning bigger margins on models as they meet targets on customer service and dealership operations.
Gunderson reminded dealers it would be a dry year for new products, although a bevy of all-new models will start appearing in 2015 and 2016. The new compact Q30 hatchback comes first, in 2015.
Gunderson also briefed dealers on Infiniti's decision to conduct an ad agency review, with an eye toward replacing its longstanding national ad agency, TBWA Worldwide, a subsidiary of the Omnicom Group.
"The agency review is long overdue," said Gunderson, principal of Infiniti of Mission Viejo in Mission Viejo, Calif.
Dealers remarked in the meeting that they had been underwhelmed by the advertising campaign that launched the critical Infiniti Q50 sedan last summer -- a launch that some referred to as "botched" by last-minute technical glitches in the car's software and delays in deliveries.
"What we saw here today was a real show of support for the new management team," Joseph Herman, COO of Kuni Automotive Group in Vancouver, Wash., said as he left the meeting. "Dealers are excited about Infiniti's leadership. And the new margin system will help us this year.
"But there has also been some frustration over the Q50 launch. We've been wanting to know what went wrong, and we just don't have answers."
Dealers also heard that Infiniti this year will consider changes in its rules on dealership data processing, possibly permitting retailers to use alternative system providers.
Meeting attendees seemed little bothered by the absence of Infiniti's executive team at NADA. The automaker recently notified dealers that Michael Bartsch, named vice president of Infiniti in North America last summer, will begin a five-city grassroots tour of dealer regions in the last week of February, Gunderson said.
Bartsch will visit with smaller groups in Chicago; Irving, Texas; Fort Lauderdale, Fla.; White Plains, N.Y.; and Marina Del Rey, Calif.