By on January 25, 2010

GM’s newly-permanent Chairman/CEO Ed Whitacre balked visibly when asked following his self-coronation if the dealer cull arbitration process would hurt GM’s chances of success this year. “I’m not sure it will weaken us,” was his half-hearted response. Whitacre’s hesitation was a bit of a surprise, considering that GM is taking a far more tolerant attitude to the arbitration process than Chrysler. But, as Automotive News [sub] reveals, GM’s downsizing was highly focused on its Cadillac brand, and if arbitration results in widespread reinstatement, Cadillac could find itself stuck with a number of small-town dealers it doesn’t want.

A year ago, when Cadillac had 1,422 dealerships, GM announced that it would be cutting the brand to 500 dealers, bringing the sales network closer in line with its European competitors (Mercedes and BMW each have fewer than 400 dealers). The 900 Cadillac dealers cut in the dealership cull made up nearly half of all GM’s bankruptcy-era dealer shutdowns.

According to a lawyer representing culled dealers, GM cited “networking viability and throughput issues,”as the reason for closing most Cadillac dealers. “It means GM wanted to sell more cars through fewer dealers,” says Anthony Giardini, general counsel of the Committee to Restore Dealer Rights “It has nothing to do with performance. GM is saying we just don’t want to be in that market.”

That means the arbitration process might be more likely to find in favor of culled Cadillac dealers, saddling GM with rural dealerships for a brand that targets sales in coastal, urban communities. In contrast, non-Cadillac dealers were typically culled for more tangible reasons than the “networking viability and throughput” concerns, meaning they might be less likely to be reinstated.
Thus, the central question of the arbitration process will be the validity of GM’s desire to migrate Cadillac retailers to urban areas. While GM leadership clearly feels that this is the path to competing on a more even footing with its European and Japanese competitors, dealers vehemently disagree. “The decision to have Cadillac abandon small-city and town markets where it dominated as a luxury brand to concentrate on large metros where it does not is the automotive equivalent of New Coke,” says one Virginia-based dealer.
If arbitrators agree with sentiments like that, GM could be forced to rethink its entire retail strategy for Cadillac.
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8 Comments on “Dealer Arbitration Screwing Up GM’s Cadillac Dealership Strategy...”

  • avatar

    I think that “Virginia-based dealer” is just right.

  • avatar

    The main GM dealer in our affluent Southern California city has recently moved Cadillac and Hummer out of its dedicated property (in favor of its new Volkswagen franchise) and into its crowded, old Buick-Pontiac-GMC (and formerly Olds) location. It’s a sad sight especially compared to the Lexus dealer next door and the giant sparkling dedicated BMW and Mercedes stores down the street. Escalades are very popular here (for now), but moves like this make me think that Cadillac’s chances at going head-to-head with Audi/Benz/BMW are very slim. Sure, the CTS products are good. But so are the competition’s. And the competition is actually sold in Europe and around the world unlike Cadillac. To buyers of luxury cars these distinctions are often important. To be selling luxury cars in modest facilities is just another handicap I don’t think Cadillac will be able to overcome. Perhaps, either Cadillac or Buick should be rationalized and GM should focus on American-style vehicles promted and priced to sell in the 300K unit range? Forget chasing the Germans. Better chance for success. Better chance at profit.

    • 0 avatar

      I’m sure you’re talking about Thousand Oaks. I work at one of the dealers there and what happened is all the money that was being thrown around was from the Home Equity ATM, and then that dried up we ran out of customers. Pretty much all our customers were from the Conejo Valley, so things are real bad for us right now.

    • 0 avatar

      If Buick and Cadillac can’t compete with the germans, and Chevy is being pressured by the japanese and the koreans, then what is left?

  • avatar

    These are excellent points from Getacar…. In my small (65,000) upper midwestern city, Cadillac pulled the plug on one of its two dealers and left a Cadillac/Buick/GMC franchise with a Chevrolet franchise on the same property. The facility is pretty nice, but putting four brands where there was only one before doesn’t seem like it will do any of them any good. Perhaps both Cadillac and Buick should be rationalized. A mistake GM seems determined to perpetuate is chasing market share ahead of profit. If the company is to be ultimately successful it’s got to make money, and that may well mean focusing exclusively on Chevrolet.

  • avatar

    With its best lineup in decades Cadillac will eventually get so small that its existence will be irrelevant. This delusion of competing directly with BMW will lead to the division’s demise. Maybe they want to copy Audi and sell 30,000 cars a year. The people running GM must be out of their minds.


  • avatar

    We lost our Cadillac store in Savannah, GA (metro area population about a quarter million). The next closest dealers are in Hilton Head, SC (about a 35 minute drive) and Statesboro, GA (about a 70 minute drive). Hilton Head isn’t that terribly far, but that dealership never really tried to serve the Savannah market before. Also, Mercedes and BMW have stores both in Savannah and Hilton Head, so this idea that the goal is to have a dealer network like the Germans’ doesn’t seem to be what we are getting. And it looks like Caddy has pulled out of the city while BMW/Benz haven’t. And GM wants to concentrate Caddy in urban areas as opposed to the sticks? Then why in the name of all that is good did GM keep a Caddy franchise in Vidalia, GA, a city with a whopping ten thousand people? Guess all those onion barons are good customers.

  • avatar

    I can’t really comment on the urban vs. rural thing, but I do remember that when I wasn’t seeing very many big American sedans anymore on Washington and Oregon roads, a lot of them – not just Caddy of course, but Chrysler, Buick, Olds, Mercury – that I did see had midwestern plates. Maybe Caddy’s strength became more coastal since then, but I don’t think so.

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