Nine months into his job as CEO at BMW of North America, Bernhard Kuhnt has put a contentious dealer bonus program on hold, visited scores of BMW stores and invited retailers to sit with him in working groups to tackle other concerns.
The brand's dealer forum chairman calls Kuhnt's moves "a heck of an olive branch."
Kuhnt, who took over on March 1, describes it as a step toward revamping the company's culture and improving profitability for both BMW of North America and the dealership network. That effort will be helped in 2018 with an influx of new and updated vehicles going on sale.
"One of my highest priorities is to really establish a positive, collaborative, communicative relationship with our dealer network," Kuhnt said in an interview.
There's no question the relationship needs work.
In recent years, BMW dealers have criticized the brand for its sales-driven culture, bloated inventories, car-truck mix not matching market demand, and, in particular, the sales method known as "punching"— a practice in which automakers ask dealers to self-register vehicles so they can be reported as sold. BMW has performed poorly in dealer attitude surveys conducted by the National Automobile Dealers Association. Though it improved somewhat on the most recent survey this summer, BMW still ranks in the bottom third of all brands operating in the U.S.