The franchised dealer model has stayed stagnant for too long and will lead to a widening gap between winners and losers, said Alain Visser, senior vice president of Lynk & CO.
That's why Visser, the industry veteran tasked by Chinese carmaker Geely to develop the new global brand, decided to go with a direct-to-consumer sales model instead.
"For me, it was very clear: If it was going to be doing the same thing that everybody else does, but a little bit better, I'm not interested at all," Visser told an audience of mostly auto dealers at the Automotive News Retail Forum in New Orleans.
"That's boring. My strong belief was, and still is, if you create a new car brand, do things differently. That doesn't mean everything that's been done over the last 100 years is wrong, but I think there's room for something else."
When he received the invitation to speak at the forum, Visser said, his colleagues thought he wouldn't attend because "that's probably like a public lynching."
After all, franchised dealers and their trade groups have fought the direct-to-consumer sales model, saying it could undercut their business model and open the door to factory-owned competition. Tesla has been the lightning rod on this issue, squaring off against dealer associations in statehouses and courts to get permission for direct-to-consumer sales.
But Visser said that dealers have been a big part of his more than 30-year career at Ford, General Motors and Volvo and that "I'm not going to turn my back to the dealers at this moment in my career."
Indeed, dealers could end up being a crucial part of the service component of Lynk & CO, which Visser pointed out is the most profitable part of a dealer's business.
Visser detailed his plans for Lynk & CO during his presentation and afterward in a wide-ranging interview. Here's a look at how he sees those plans unfolding, and the role dealers might play.
The franchised dealer model is behind the times, Visser said. Rather than haggle with dealers, millennials would prefer to buy a vehicle the way they buy a smartphone, and the auto industry hasn't caught up to the changes in consumer attitudes. The industry "portrays itself as evolving and very revolutionary," he said, but in reality is "hugely arrogant" and still sells vehicles the same way it did a century ago.
Visser cited market data showing that today's consumers want to be connected but aren't interested in owning a vehicle. Lynk & CO is designed to appeal to them.
The Lynk 01, which is to arrive late this year in China, is designed around technology, always connected to a cloud computing platform. It has sharing technology built in, and can be rented out when it's not in use by the owner.
Visser believes younger buyers will like the subscription model, which differs from a lease because it requires no down payment. Lynk & CO will advertise only the subscription price, but customers who want to buy or get a traditional lease will have those options.
There will be zero discounts, Visser said, and choices will be limited. Every vehicle will come with all of the features offered, and eight color choices. Visser said he's abandoning the idea of model years -- colors will be launched based on seasons, as in the fashion industry. And vehicle models won't get names; they will be numbered: After the 01 comes the 02, and so on.