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…)

By on January 28, 2017

2015 Dodge SRT Hellcat

Fiat Chrysler Automobiles rocketed out of the recession with year-over-year U.S. sales increases, eventually erasing the sudden deficit of buyers that led to its bankruptcy. Between 2009 and 2015, the resurgent automaker went from a measly 931,402 U.S. sales to a healthy, cash-generating 2,243,907.

Those gray skies sure did clear up. Happy days!

Now for last year’s sales tally: 2,244,315. Notice something unusual? That’s right, FCA tacked on just 408 sales in 2016 compared to a year prior. While sales growth can’t be counted on like the rising and falling of the sun, especially in a market that has reached a tentative plateau, it’s nonetheless concerning for FCA. The sales juggernaut sits idle in the water, yearning for headway.

Is the automaker’s problem simply that there aren’t enough places to buy Jeep, Dodge, Chrysler, Ram and Fiat vehicles? (Read More…)

By on January 27, 2017

dealership

The cornerstone of every healthy relationship is frank and frequent communication. Last year, consumers wanted more sport utility vehicles, but automakers still had too many cars rolling off assembly lines. Caught in the crossfire were forlorn dealerships that were incapable of providing the trucks and crossovers that customers cannot seem to get enough of.

At the 2017 National Automobile Dealers Association Conference & Expo, this issue is apparently weighing so heavily on the minds of America’s automotive purveyors that it wouldn’t be surprising if gray matter began leaking out of their ears and onto the expo floor.  (Read More…)

By on January 23, 2017

Walmart

With the exception of funeral services and stylish clothing, practically anything can be purchased at your local Walmart. Well, that list now includes automobiles. North America’s largest retailer is edging is way into automotive sales with the help of the nation’s largest new-car dealership franchise, AutoNation.

Launching in April, Walmart’s CarSaver program will make it the perfect middleman for impulse car buyers and local dealerships. CarSaver is designed to allow shoppers to browse, select, finance, and insure a vehicle through its website or at kiosks positioned in outside of the nail salons and vision centers of twenty-five Walmart Supercenters. (Read More…)

By on December 22, 2016

Truro Nissan storefront

There are certain inescapable truths in this world: bacon is delicious, man buns should be outlawed, and car dealerships endure a reputation of being a refuge for the ethically bankrupt.

I — like many others around here — am no stranger to witnessing the unscrupulous debauchery occurring on some showroom floors. However, there are exceptions to every rule, and a fledgling dealer in small-market rural Canada puts the lie to the claim that backwards thinking is a trait of all car dealerships. There are bright spots out there, as proven by the team at Truro Nissan.

(Read More…)

By on December 19, 2016

2016 Veloster Turbo, Image: Hyundai

In terms of unpleasantness, buying a new vehicle often ranks up there with visiting a passive-aggressive dentist, or perhaps meeting with your child’s teacher to discuss his or her “performance.”

Overzealous salespeople who stereotype customers, high-pressure them into buying the vehicle and package the seller wants, and generally lack knowledge about their own product likely sour more people on a brand than recalls and scandals. If only there was an easy way to avoid turning customers away while boosting sales.

It turns out, the solution could be very simple. (Read More…)

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