Looking at today's political scene, one can see that hypocrisy is no longer a sin. Unfortunately, that has long been the case for motor vehicle franchisors.
Manufacturers and distributors profess a total commitment to customer satisfaction. They claim to hold themselves to the highest standards. They hold dealers accountable with surveys, basing — or perhaps withholding — payments on the results and even threatening termination for failing to meet their measurements. They say they are so committed to customer satisfaction that dissatisfaction could only be the fault of dealers.
To buy that claim, one must overlook some facts inconvenient to the franchisors:
Measurements of consumer satisfaction are often statistically indefensible.
Surveys are designed to ignore or minimize the impact of vehicle quality and manufacturer reputation and performance so that consumer unhappiness on those bases is ascribed to dealer behavior.
Consumer opinions are impacted by highly publicized manufacturer misbehavior, such as diesel emissions-rigging that leads to suspicion that other automakers cheat, too.
Industrywide recalls are at record levels, but in many cases, there are no fixes or parts to resolve them.
Last, but far from least, the impact of manufacturer stair-step incentive programs are widespread and increasing.
Every dealer knows the impact of stair-step incentives. They are designed by manufacturers to drive sales volume regardless of the fallout. Franchisor proponents of stair-step incentives must know the havoc they create, yet the proliferation of the practice suggests they don't care. The confusing plans make for unhappy employees because the complexity affects their ability to do their jobs. And customer dissatisfaction increases because consumers are confused by the array of factory benefits. Pre-stair-step buyers wonder why they paid so much more for a similar vehicle.
Yet the manufacturers and distributors act as if they have no responsibility for the problems they cause. They say they are simply providing rewards that help dealers do their jobs.
Rewards? Most often this is money that dealers must bargain away to reach mandated volume levels in today's Internet marketplace.
The solution cannot come on a state-by-state basis. Franchisors have shown they are quite willing to cut off programs in states that legislate against such franchisor overreach, putting dealers in those states at a disadvantage to cross-border rivals and aggressive interstate Internet marketers. The solution can only come on a national basis through efforts such as use of the bully pulpit of national dealer advocates.
Until then, we are stuck writing op-eds lamenting that dealers must clean the consumer-angering mud some franchisors kick on them and make sure that everyone leaves with a smile.