By on August 14, 2017

smart-cabrio

Daimler announced in February that it would stop sending gasoline-powered models to North America this summer and move exclusively to EVs after inventory levels decline. Dealers had until the end of June to decide if they wanted to be a part of the next wave of personal mobility.

With Smart swapping to electric-only drivetrains for U.S. retailers, we assumed the majority of Mercedes-Benz dealers still clinging onto the microscopic Fortwo would abandon it — as would every standalone Smart store still in existence.

Smart only sold 54 electric models within the United States between January and May, so it’s understandable that this summer saw over two-thirds of all retailers opting out of the deal. That leaves Smart with only 27 sanctioned stores within the United States, making it more exclusive than Lotus, Ferrari, Lamborghini, and even Rolls-Royce.  (Read More…)

By on August 8, 2017

Round Rock Genesis dealer - Image: Genesis Motors

“We do in fact have to expedite our process of separating our brands.”
– Genesis Motors General Manager Erwin Raphael

From the start, Hyundai Motor America’s plans to launch its upmarket Genesis brand inside Hyundai showrooms was easy to question. Do consumers want the link between a $68,100 Genesis G90 and a $14,745 Hyundai Accent to be so obvious?

Of course not. But affording Genesis a mere corner of certain Hyundai showrooms wasn’t the only problem — Genesis general manager Erwin Raphael also had issues early on with the number of Hyundai dealers signed up to sell the Genesis brand.

“We may see that (350) figure go down,” Raphael said in November 2016, only a few months after the brand began selling cars in America. “I think it is too high.”

Fast forward to August 2017 and Hyundai’s plan to eventually separate the Genesis brand with standalone showrooms, perhaps in 2020, is about to be pulled way forward. “For this brand to really survive and thrive,” Raphael tells Automotive News, “and for us to develop the culture within ourselves and within our dealer network to support and take care of these customers, we do in fact have to expedite our process of separating our brands.”

So what happens to all of those Hyundai dealers who recently spent thousands renovating showrooms to include Genesis studios? (Read More…)

By on August 4, 2017

model car mechanic

Mechanics at roughly 130 new car dealerships in Chicago went on strike Tuesday morning. According to the Automobile Mechanics’ Union Local 701, nearly 2,000 grease monkeys threw in the towel before also tossing a wrench into dealer maintenance schedules — leaving customers to fend for themselves.

On the first day of the strike, Mark Bilek, senior director of communications for the Chicago Automobile Trade Association, issued a statement that most affected dealerships would remain open with partially functional service centers. “They may not be performing complex repairs, but oil changes, stuff like that, it’s business as usual,” said Bilek in a statement.

However, the union stated that wouldn’t last for long if demands were not met.  It has been bargaining with the New Car Dealer Committee since June, citing uncompensated time, unacceptable schedules, unsatisfactory pay, and no opportunities for career progression as its chief complaints. Deadlocked since negotiations began, the union decided to halt all work at the beginning of August — despite Bilek’s assurance that customers could still get their oil changed or tires rotated.  (Read More…)

By on July 31, 2017

Ford Sync 3, Image: Ford Motor Co.

Technology is a major component in what makes a modern-day automobile desirable. It’s so important, in fact, that numerous quality and customer satisfaction surveys have cited owner misunderstandings of a vehicle’s electronic interface as the primary reason for specific models losing marks.

MyFord Touch was among the worst offenders, thanks to unreliable connectivity features and lethargic software. While Sync3 is much improved, it isn’t a perfect system and can still perplex luddites — just like any modern vehicle’s interface.

With that in mind, a Lincoln dealership in Michigan is conducting monthly seminars to help older folks feel more comfortable with all the newfangled electronic gizmos the kids today seem so damn enthusiastic about. It’s the sort of behavior most dealers should have been engaging in from the start but, unfortunately, has been reserved primarily for premium automakers.  (Read More…)

By on July 26, 2017

cars dealer dealership, Image: HappyAlex/Bigstock

In the last five years, I’ve visited over 2,500 dealers in 44 different states. Sometimes I think I’ve seen everything. And just when I think that, I’m invariably proven wrong.

This week, I walked through the doors of a massive dealership — easily one of the largest dealers I’ve ever set foot in (the name and make of this dealer shall remain anonymous, since the conversation was “off the record”). This dealer sells upwards of 500 new cars a month and about 200 used per month, and they’re planning to add even more floor space so they can increase their volume.

As I waited to talk to the GM, I browsed the cars on the showroom floor. Considering the overwhelming success of this store, you can imagine my surprise when I saw that every car on the floor, without exception, had an extra sticker on the window.

(Read More…)

By on June 19, 2017

2017 smart fortwo cabrio electric drive (Euro spec image)

It’s been roughly a decade since Daimler’s Smart Automobile first caressed America’s purple mountains and amber waves of grain with the microscopic Fortwo. Despite a promising first year in the United States, the brand never really managed to carve a space out for itself in a competitive and size-obsessed marketplace. The same is true (over a slightly longer timeline) for Canada.

Standalone Smart dealerships have become a rarity, frequently rolled into Mercedes-Benz sales lots over the years. But both have to ask themselves the same question: Is it worth pursuing sales when Daimler converts the little two-seater into a pure electric later this year and abandons the gasoline engine?

Obviously, the gut reaction is to tell every Mercedes-Benz franchise “probably not” and recommend any standalone Smart dealership immediately consider arson. Small car sales in North America are dwindling and EV sales are miniscule. Claiming a vehicle that exists as one of the least capable examples of both is a good investment is not something any rational person would suggest. But that doesn’t mean there isn’t a place for the unfortunately named Fortwo ED in North America.  (Read More…)

By on May 22, 2017

image: Michael Sheehan AutoNation 2014

At least twenty upper-echelon executives have left AutoNation since the start of 2014, with the vast majority bailing within two years. Short stints with an employer and lackluster job stability may be the norm for bottom-rung millennials but senior managers with years of experience have a tendency to stick around a while.

That doesn’t necessarily mean there is something sinisterly “up” with the largest automotive retailer in the United States, but it does leave you wondering about its future. This concern was heightened after AutoNation’s chief operating officer, Bill Berman, suddenly resigned last week, not even four months after being named president.  (Read More…)

By on May 1, 2017

dealership tornado

A Fiat Chrysler-affiliated dealership in Texas was hit by a tornado Saturday night, suffering catastrophic damage to its showroom, service center, and inventory. If you’ve ever wondered how your oversized truck would stack up against the awesome power of Mother Nature, look no further than the scattered and overturned vehicles that once occupied Interstate 20 Chrysler Dodge Jeep Ram of Canton’s parking lot.  (Read More…)

By on April 21, 2017

Fiat Tipo, Image: FCA

Say you’re a dealer with a backlog of slow-selling models. What’s the last thing you would want?

The correct answer would be a springtime deluge of more of the same, whether you asked for it or not. That’s what some angry retailers across the Atlantic are facing after Fiat Chrysler Automobiles dumped 6,000 anemic sellers into Italian dealer management systems at the end of February. (Read More…)

By on April 18, 2017

[Image: Mitsibishi Motor Sales of Canada]

Maybe it’s not the product, but the dealerships? It might not be the solution to all of the problems facing an increasingly less troubled Mitsubishi north of the border, but it can’t hurt.

Under a new five-year plan, the automaker plans to revamp and modernize all of its 90 Canadian dealers. Bright, glassy and inviting, the redesigned dealerships are worth the expense if it helps draw more buyers into a customer base that hasn’t grown much in years. (Read More…)

By on February 21, 2017

mercedes-benz logo

If Mercedes-Benz dealers manage to overhaul their stores to the brand’s updated “Autohaus2” image standards, the locations can forget about additional modifications until after 2024.

The German automaker’s promise to leave dealerships alone is abnormal, and comes after the second generation of its controversial Autohaus standard established — to the chagrin of dealerships — in 2008. Much of Mercedes’ salesforce objected to the mandatory image alterations, similarly to how Cadillac’s dealer network has responded to that brand’s Project Pinnacle.

Hoping to ease tensions as showrooms adhere to the new status quo, the 2024 pledge provides all sides with a reprieve. The Autohaus2 plan, and subsequent dealer amnesty, was penned under former Mercedes-Benz USA CEO Steve Cannon, though the company’s current North American boss, Dietmar Exler, also supports it.  (Read More…)

By on February 18, 2017

Honda dealer sign

It’s been a rough week at Frank Ancona Honda of Olathe, Kansas.

The family-owned dealership, in operation just southwest of Kansas City since 1961, has successfully weathered all of the storms that periodically pummel dealers of all stripes.

Then, last weekend, a body discovered on the banks of Missouri’s Big River — about a five-hour drive to the east — gave the dealership the kind of attention that no business wants. The corpse, which had a bullet hole in its head, also had a name: Frank Ancona.

No, the founder of Frank Ancona Honda is still alive and well at 85. But much to his dismay, the Frank Ancona discovered by the Big River was none other than the 51-year-old imperial wizard of the Traditionalist American Knights of the Ku Klux Klan. (Read More…)

By on February 13, 2017

2017 Ram 1500 Laramie Limited Crew Cab 4x4

Fiat Chrysler Automobiles has made a turnoff on the wrong road in the hopes of boosting its flagging sales, argues Jim Appleton.

The president of the New Jersey Coalition of Automotive Retailers is accusing the automaker of being reckless and short-sighted in its bid to open 380 new dealerships across the country. If FCA wants to reverse its market slide, Appleton claims, it should first take a good hard look at its product. (Read More…)

By on February 6, 2017

old dealership Chrysler

Fiat Chrysler Automobiles wants to grow its dealer network by 380 new stores in a bid to improve its dwindling market share. The plan isn’t going over so well with the company’s existing dealers, however. As the strategy could potentially threaten their present businesses, some of those dealerships are putting up a fight over the issue.

The choice to expand comes at a difficult time. Sales locations aren’t doing the best and suffering through a diluted and unpopular product lineup while the automaker shifts its focus away from cars to the more-popular SUVS and trucks. FCA sales have been on the decline for almost six months and the company’s slice of the U.S. market fell to 12 percent in the fourth quarter of 2016, compared to 13.6 percent in the same period of 2015. The expansion decision also goes against the advice of FCA’s dealership location consultant, Urban Science. (Read More…)

By on January 31, 2017

e-tron

Along with the rest of Volkswagen AG, Audi has made plans to invest heavily into electric vehicles. The company expects EVs to comprise 25 percent of its U.S. sales by 2025 and is devoting the e-tron moniker to an entire division of electrified models, with the first arriving next year.

Addressing the J.D. Power Summit at this year’s National Automobile Dealers Association Convention and Expo, Audi of America President Scott Keogh told salesmen to welcome the electric mobility market with open arms or learn to cope with an ambivalent future. However, jumping head-first into a relatively small market with a huge potential for growth isn’t without pitfalls, and it isn’t unwise for dealers to remain cautious. Still, with Audi planning to introduce three new BEVs within the United States by 2020 and Volkswagen Group hoping to have 30 battery-electric models out by the 2025, you can see why Keogh is pressing the issue.  (Read More…)

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