"THIS IS A TRUE STORY. ... At the request of the survivors, the names have been changed. Out of respect for the dead, the rest has been told exactly as it occurred."
So reads the opening frame of the 1996 movie Fargo.
Turns out the kidnap-murder story was mostly made up, except for two small elements: the shocking part near the end where a body is disposed of in a wood chipper — and the perfectly believable part near the beginning where a car salesman is working a scam against the finance company.
It's too bad these true stories of financial shenanigans at the dealership keep showing up in one form or another, not just in pop culture, but in our own pages.
In just the past few weeks, we've chronicled the cases of missing vehicles at the celebrity-studded All Pro Nissan group, the implosion of Texas' big Reagor Dykes Auto Group under the weight of a probing audit, and the "likable" salesman at Florida's Champion Porsche who allegedly siphoned more than $2.5 million in customer deposits.
These weren't fly-by-night operations. They were reputable dealerships that enjoyed the trust of their brands and their customers. And they blew it.
These and all dealerships that engage in questionable practices, or employ people who do, must surely recognize that they reinforce the public's persistently poor image of ethics and integrity in the auto retailing business. They also undermine the case of every dealer who seeks more autonomy from the factory.
Lest anyone accuse us of dwelling on the proverbial bad apples, we'll point them to the many stories we've told over these same few weeks about dealers who found innovative ways to get by in difficult times. None of their strategies involved scams.
We'll also point them to the rest of that proverb about bad apples: They spoil the bunch.
In the face of these three scandals, all dealers and managers need to ask some serious questions — before law enforcement or auditors do the asking — about why the auto retailing business continues to breed such rotten practices, and whether their dealerships are doing enough to promote and enforce an ethical culture at every level.