LOS ANGELES -- Call it a third chance at a first impression.
As the Scott Painter era slowly fades, TrueCar is sketching a new vision of the online car-buying portal, one that's guided by a team of executives who admit TrueCar made mistakes in its quest for growth and who are keen to bridge the wide trust deficit with dealers.
The core business model and controversial data-gathering practices won't change, these executives say. But TrueCar is moving away from the more combative approach favored by Painter, the company founder and CEO who abruptly resigned in August amid fractured relationships with dealers and disappointing earnings.
The change begins with whom TrueCar sees as its customers. Under Painter, it was the digitally savvy consumer yearning for a better way to buy a car. Not anymore.
"Let me be very clear," CFO Mike Guthrie told Automotive News in an interview at TrueCar's headquarters in Santa Monica, Calif. "Dealers are our customers."
That posture from Guthrie -- who has assumed day-to-day management of the company while its board looks for a new CEO -- represents a crucial pivot from Painter's approach, one that saw TrueCar as a disruptive challenger to dealers' conventional business model.
"I think one of the things you're going to see from this management team going forward regardless of who may become our CEO, is a broader, deeper commitment to listening to our dealer partners," said Johnny Stephenson, TrueCar's chief risk officer, who has been on the front lines of TrueCar's legal battles with dealers and regulators.
TrueCar is already working on changes in this regard. Under Mike Timmons, TrueCar's Austin, Texas-based vice president for dealer development, the company has thickened its dealer support team by 60 percent in the past 12 months.
Over the next six to 12 months, TrueCar plans to roll out new tools for communication with dealers, for invoicing and for sales associates at the store, Timmons said.
"Our job is to help dealers sell more cars, and we think we are not doing a good enough job of helping dealers close on the prospects we send to dealers every month and every quarter," Timmons told Automotive News.