Pappert had been a favorite of Chrysler's dealers. During his time in the sales department, he had come to the realization that bad dealers tend to get washed out naturally. During his run, he had experimented with eliminating Minimum Sales Responsibilities and other disciplinary tools that the factory has used against dealers.
So why dredge up these bad memories now? Well, Pappert says, Fiat Chrysler's ongoing network expansion project. Automotive News revealed in January that the automaker was adding more than 300 U.S. rooftops, and to Pappert, it seemed like more proof that the dealer culling during the bankruptcy had been wrongheaded.
He had lived through Chrysler's acquisition of American Motors in 1987 and the messy business of absorbing its dealers into Chrysler. And though he retired almost 20 years ago — a lifetime in industry terms — he still has many friends across FCA's dealer network.
"The dealers didn't cause Chrysler's bankruptcy," Pappert said after a sip of iced tea. "This [network expansion] proves that Chrysler didn't have too many dealers. But the [terminated] dealers really got screwed. It's been how long now, and I still don't know why it happened."
Of the 789 dealers originally terminated by Chrysler, hundreds were eventually returned. An exact figure was not available from FCA.
"These men and women, families, had their businesses, their livelihoods, stripped away from them," Pappert said. "But there was no reason to do it, and nobody would help."
All these years later, Pappert is realistic about his former business partners.
"We had some dealers that were very, very good dealers, and the flip side was, yes, some of them were very hard to get along with," he said. "But human nature says, 'You don't bite the hand that feeds you.' If the guy's putting out the volume, you did business with them."
And that's the thing that gnaws at him, almost a decade later: not just the why of what happened, but the who. Who exactly was it who thought cutting dealers was a good idea?
The pervasive argument at the time was that cutting branches from Chrysler's dealer network would vastly improve the profitability of those who remained, and the intervening years — some of the best in history in terms of Chrysler dealer profitability — give strong testimony to that argument. The notion that the domestic automakers were "over-dealered" heading into Chrysler's and GM's bankruptcies certainly wasn't unique.
But during the 36 years Pappert worked at Chrysler, he took as an article of faith the importance of a strong, vibrant dealer network.
"That was the first question that was asked at Chrysler years ago: What percentage of our dealers are profitable? You know, franchises that don't make a lot of money don't last very long, and why manufacturers don't understand that is beyond me," he said.
"Why they wanted to terminate all of those dealers during the bankruptcy? Was it Obama?" Pappert asked, finishing his lunch. "Who convinced Washington that this was the right path?"