About half of all dealers culled in the GM and Chrysler bankruptcies have filed for congressionally-mandated arbitration, reports Automotive News [sub]. 409 of the 789 culled Chrysler dealers and over 1,000 of the 2,000 culled GM dealers have paid the $1,625 to file for arbitration, and will move into the next phase of the process: agreeing on an arbitrator. Having threatened to sabotage the process with a lawsuit on constitutional grounds, it’s a bit of a surprise to see Chrysler suddenly validating the arbitration process,but that’s what appears to be taking place. Chrysler tells AN [sub]:
The company looks forward to the expeditious completion of the process. A robust dealer network is a critical component of the group’s strategy of rebuilding a strong and resilient American automaker
Representatives of the culled dealers are optimistic that many could be reinstated when arbitration wraps up in June, but only if Chrysler continues to approach the arbitration process with an open mind. Whether that happens or not will be clear as the process goes on.
Even with a government-mandated arbitration process in place, the battle between Chrysler and its 789 culled dealers is a low-down, dirty dogfight. Last week, Chrysler sent out letters to all of its rejected dealers, in its attempt to comply with the arbitration law’s disclosure requirements. But, dealers tell Automotive News [sub], those letters are justifications, but not explanations. Absent concrete evidence for why their franchises were closed (something GM has provided to its culled dealers), lawyers for some 65 rejected dealers are fighting back.
Automotive News [sub] has more bad news for Saab dealers and customers. Saab’s prospective new owners have put the hit out on 81 of Saab’s current 218 US dealerships. If all goes according to plan, a measly 137 US Saab dealers will remain. Saab’s thin and uneven sales and service network has been an issue for the brand forever, and this isn’t going to make it any better. “The target date to close the sale of Saab is Nov. 30, but it could take until year end, says Mike Colleran, COO of Saab Cars North America in Detroit.” Don’t count on it.
“I don’t see anyone bleeding to death,” Sergio Marchionne told reporters and analysts a week ago, when asked what he thought of Chrysler’s current dealer body. He might be about to change his tune. The US Treasury will stop guaranteeing GMAC’s floorplan loans to Chrysler Group dealers on the 21st of this month, and the bailed-out lender has marked over 100 dealers to be cut off. According to the Detroit Free Press, these dealers had all survived Chrysler’s dealer consolidation efforts in bankruptcy, indicating that their sales business is relatively steady. But because of huge investments made with Chrysler Financial loans at the height of the real estate market, these dealers owe more than their dealerships are worth. Chrysler Financial is winding down its business, and it refuses to give up the first right to the property as collateral. Because GMAC is now a bank holding company and requires more collateral on loans than it previously did, it wants land and buildings put up as collateral that are already securing old Chrysler Financial loans. Of course those old loans were for renovations made as part of Chrysler’s “Project Genesis,” which dealers had little choice but to participate in. If those Chrysler-mandated investments meant certain dealers were not going to qualify for floorplanning, they should have been culled during bankruptcy. Which is why NADA is appealing to Chrysler CEO Sergio Marchionne on behalf of the threatened dealers. And maybe if Marchionne takes a look into this meatgrinder, he’ll see a few dealers stuck between giant, bailed-out businesses, bleeding to death.
GM spokesfolks tell Automotive News [sub] The General is “in the process of re-establishing select points in certain markets around the country as part of our ongoing analysis of our dealer consolidation efforts.” Don’t hurt yourself thinking too hard about that though, because it’s one of those “we must destroy the village to save the village” things. GM is apparently contacting certain former dealers and inviting them to open new dealerships, having already forced them out of business once in bankruptcy court. According to the Committee To Restore Dealer Rights, former dealers in Pennsylvania, Illinois, Michigan, Ohio, Colorado and Massachusetts have been contacted to open new dealerships, in urban and rural markets. Some culled dealers located in areas GM has targeted for new dealerships were not invited by GM to submit proposals, and the CTRDR considers this a play by GM to drive a wedge within the ranks of the culled dealers. Negotiations between GM and its aggrieved former dealers resume tomorrow, and news that GM is re-opening dealers less than a year after it shut down 1,300 won’t be good for their political popularity. And yes, that matters. Meanwhile, details on how many dealerships are being opened are still forthcoming from General “Transparency” Motors.
The recent revelation that congresspeople have been successful in coercing GM to rescind dealer closures in their districts, has the rest of our elected representatives (not to mention GM itself) sitting up and taking notice. In a conference call with Michigan’s congressional delegation, Fritz Henderson said GM was close to a deal which would restore a number of “mistakenly” closed dealerships. But GM hasn’t met with rejected dealers in weeks, and the Committee To Restore Dealer Rights is unaware of any such agreement. “[Henderson] was very vague, and the plan sounded inadequate to me,” Michigan Republican Hoekstra tells Automotive News [sub]. “He explained, for instance, that they might reopen some franchises if they found errors, but he didn’t say what those errors might be.” Henderson also rejected the dealer demand for compensation of $3,000 per vehicle sold in 2006, 2007 and 2008, further supporting suspicions that GM doesn’t have a deal at all. So what is happening? (Read More…)