By on February 22, 2010

GM and Chrysler were already culling dealers before their bankruptcies, which hastened the process. Many of those dealerships were profitable businesses, often family owned, whether or not they were ultimately an asset to the parent automakers. Dealers have established regional brand equity, being major advertisers in their markets. The dealers losing their franchises have explored what few options they have. There are lobbying efforts at the state and national levels to protect the affected dealers with some kind of legislation. Some have signed up with Hyundai & Kia, as the low priced Korean automakers thrive in the recession. Others, recognizing that new car sales are often a wash, and that repair service and used car sales are profit centers, have stayed in business as used car dealerships or automotive service centers.

Now Sears Roebuck & Co. has offered some of those culled dealers another lifeline. Banking on the reputation of its DieHard battery brand as well as being one of the country’s leader tire retailers, Sears is launching the Independent Sears Auto Center franchise program, starting with a former Chrysler dealer in New Jersey, the Coleman Auto Group. Participating stores will offer Sears’ full automotive product line of batteries, tire, accesories as well as repair services and replacement parts.

On paper this appears to be a win-win. Sears is a well established player in the replacement battery and tire market. Every Sears store has a large automotive department that sells those tires and batteries as well as a fairly extensive selection of car and truck accessories. The brand’s association with cars and car repair in consumers’ minds is solid – even if we’ve never bought a DieHard, we’ve all shopped at Sears at one time or another and have passed through their automotive department. The automotive franchising program is in line with Sears’ other efforts to expand their brand like the standalone Sears hardware stores and putting Craftsman products in Kmart stores. This will help sell more DieHards.

For the dealers, who have retail showrooms, parts departments, and extensively and expensively equipped service departments, becoming a Sears franchise allows them to try and recover that investments. For dealers who maintain their used-car sales department, the Sears brand will help restore some brand name cachet that they lost with their GM or Chrysler franchise. Put another way, it reduces the stigma attached to used-car dealers.

Bill Jackson, Senior Vice President of Sears Holdings Corp. and President of Sears Authorized Independent Auto Centers, LLC. said “For customers, Sears Auto Centers will be more convenient than ever, with more locations providing our full product and service offerings. This is also a great opportunity for dealers who are currently selling used cars to gain a brand that’s nationally recognized for quality and dependability, a resource for buying high-quality auto parts and supplies, and access to a proven business model that has been tailored to their needs.”

It’s intriguing that Sears specifically mentioned dealers who continue to sell cars. Sears in addition to being a general retailer has some valuable brand names like Kenmore and Craftsman but the company has rarely, if ever, manufactured its own products. Kenmore washing machines are made by Whirlpool in Benton Harbor, Michigan and now that a lot of manufacturing has moved to China, Sears has plenty of experience working with Chinese vendors. Downstream I can see a network of Sears automotive centers being an attractive sales venue for emerging foreign automakers.

Already there’s been speculation that Chinese or Indian automakers will entirely bypass the traditional dealer model and sell their cars in big box stores like Wallmart or Costco. That speculation was started by BYD’s claim at the recent NAIAS that they would be selling cars in the US by the end of this year, though they have no distribution or dealer channel in place. Honda VP John Mendel, who said that selling cars in “warehouse stores or electronic stores” could destroy the current auto dealer business model, gave that speculation some credence.

The major obstacle to abandoning the traditional car dealer model has been after sales service. As Ed Niedermeyer pointed out, a US spec Tata Nano might be cheap but a $5,000 car is not as disposable as a $300 tv set.

A network of name branded automotive service centers, already experienced with retail car sales would be a natural fit for a Chinese or Indian automaker trying to break into the US market.

Ironically, this would not be the first time Sears has tried to bypass the traditional auto dealer business model. In 1952, Sears Roebuck introduced the Sears Allstate, sold through their Allstate auto accessory stores and advertised in their catalog. Manufactured by Kaiser-Frazer, the Allstate was a badge engineered Henry J. After-sales service was supposed to be provided by K-F dealers. It came in two models, Standard for $1,395 and Deluxe for $1,796. One of a number of economy priced models introduced by small automakers in the early 1950s to less than enthusiastic consumer response, only 1,600 (one source says 2,300) Sears Allstates were sold and Sears left the new car business in 1953 after only two years. In the case of the Allstate, it was hamstrung by internal politics at Kaiser-Frazer. The company liked the idea of another retail channel, but its dealers didn’t want the competition, service revenue notwithstanding. Sales were also hampered by the fact that the car was too expensive a product to keep in inventory – customers had to order and wait. Also, the lack of dealers meant no trade-in opportunities.

Actually, the Allstate was not Sears’ first attempt to retail cars under its own brand without using the traditional dealer network, though back in 1908 car dealers were not old enough to be traditional. Nor were they in every town and hamlet. Much of America was still rural and people ordered just about everything in their house from the Sears Roebuck & Company catalog, including, sometimes, the house itself. Sears was a reputable business and every town had a railroad depot.

The 1909 Sears, Roebuck & Co. catalog advertised the Sears Motor Buggy for $395 plus shipping to the nearest train station, $370 without fenders and top. The car could also be delivered at the Chicago factory ready to drive.

Acetylene headlamps were an option ($2.95) as were speedometers, though with 10 HP (later models had 14 HP) and a 25 mph top speed, they were hardly necessary. Sears advertised the Motor Buggy as “so safe that a child could run it.” To save on shipping costs some assembly was required to drive the car home, but it did come with an instruction manual and a gallon of lubricating oil.

Alvaro S. Krotz, electric vehicle pioneer and the inventor of treaded tires, designed the Motor Buggy. He supervised assembly, using components made by suppliers to the then young automobile industry. Sears advertised that the Motor Buggy used an “angle steel frame built by experts that build 75 percent of the automobile frames used in the United States today”. Reeves supplied the 2 cylinder air cooled gasoline engine.

The Sears Motor Buggy’s slogan was ‘Lowest in Original Cost – Lowest in Upkeep Cost’ and considering that it was half the price of the then recently introduced Ford Model T and the Sears catalog’s ubiquity, it should have been a success.

Indeed, the Motor Buggy was more successful than the Allstate, at least in terms of sales, but both are pretty much trivial anecdotes of automotive history (though a useful angle for a story about Sears, culled dealers and Chinese and Indian car imports). Approximately 3,000 Motor Buggies were sold until Sears, which lost money on each, stopped selling them in 1912 and sold the tooling to the Lincoln Motor Car Works (unrelated to Ford’s Lincoln brand) one of their suppliers.

So while Sears has some experience selling cars outside the normal dealer networks, that experience has not been profitable or long lived. Even today among the biggest obstacles to establishing a car brand in the US are distribution and retail sales. After sales service (including warranty work) is just as important in 2010 as it was in 1952 and 1908. The Sears Motor Buggy had a huge price advantage over its competitors but no dealers to service the car. Even worse, most buyers had to finish assembly themselves, the world’s first kit car. Kaiser-Frazer dealers were reluctant to service Sears Allstates and you couldn’t go back to Sears and trade in your Allstate on a new model.

It’s not too hard to load cars onto a ship. Convincing entrepreneurs to plunk down hard cash for a franchise with an unproven brand is considerably more difficult. Analysts say that 150-200 is the minimum dealer count to introduce a new brand. By comparison, Subaru and Hyundai, two brands that are adding dealers, not culling them, each have 600-700 dealers, both after decades in North America. Should Sears franchise a few hundred Independent Sears Auto Centers that could be an enticing distribution channel for an automaker trying to enter the US market.

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45 Comments on “Sears Signs Up Former GM & Chrysler Dealers: Are Chinese/Indian Cars Next?...”

  • avatar

    Sears sold everything, at one time or another.

    • 0 avatar
      crash sled

      You beat me to it, mpres.

      The really smart guys reach back into history, and bring forward what once worked, and might work again.

      Salesmen are a dime a dozen, but working with service centers is a might trickier. Get that settled up front, and the sales aspect follows as a matter of course. Anybody who truly leverages an existing Sears service center type of network is headed down that path.

      I remember Nasser seemed to have designs on this back in the 90’s. He bought that old Scot’s muffler shops in the UK, and alongside his efforts to sell cars on the innertubes, it was a loaded gun pointed at the dealers, who went absolutely berserk. So, the old Scot bought back the muffler shops for 10 cents on the dollar or something, then resold them AGAIN at a profit. That guy deserves a medal or something!

  • avatar

    In the metro Detroit market many of the dealers that lost their franchises have partnered with NAPA for service, parts and accessories so Sears may be a little late to the party.

  • avatar

    This is the kind of article you used to get in the car magazines; it’d be the one that was folded over, and taken to the bathroom for an in-depth read.

    Ed: thank you for waiving the old 800-word article limit. You’re seeing the fruits of that decision here.

    • 0 avatar

      When I submitted it to Ed, I told him that it was the kind of melange of news, speculation, commentary and auto history that the B&B like.

      Thank you for the very kind words. You have no idea how much a comment like that means to me. I’m a novice at this and it tickles me when people enjoy what I’ve written. It was a dream of mine to write for a car magazine back in their golden era. LJK Setright is a personal hero.

      As for waiving the 800 word limit, that’s much appreciated. It used to take me twice as much time cutting things as writing them. OTOH, a low word count limit forces more disciplined writing.

      Great, now I’m bathroom reading.

  • avatar

    On paper, it makes sense, Sears has a nationwide presence, its own service centers, and caters to the demographic who would most likely shop for these cars.

    But then take a step back- Chinese and Indian cars? I don’t know too much about Tata (they could be good ala Mahindra) , but could you imagine if Sears tried selling a Lifan 520? And Toyota is already losing billions with this recall fiasco- such a thing would drive Sears (not what I’d call the world’s healthiest retailer) into bankruptcy.

    Maybe American consumers are dumb enough to buy one, but I’d imagine that most aren’t. Most would rather buy a used Honda than some Chinese POS.

  • avatar

    The topic of Sears selling Chinese cars is at best pure speculation.

  • avatar

    only fitting that Allstate help utilize the facilities that their newly appointed Marketing Chief, Mark LaNeve, was responsible for closing.

    to offset GM’s use of Howie Long, Sears could hire Bruce Willis to market the Die Hard Brand.

  • avatar

    I don’t know about whether they’ll sell new Chinese cars, but a “Sears Certified” used car store with a branded service department might be a good thing. Like Carmax, but with their own in-house warranty/service.

    I would think that buying a used car at a no-haggle price from Sears and having a warranty that’s good at any Sears auto center would be pretty attractive to a lot of people. Granted, Sears doesn’t have the brand cachet it once did but I think there’s probably enough good will left to make that work.

    They already have the existing service centers, their own brand of replacement parts, and do a good job on wear items like batteries, tires, shocks, etc.

    With all that, why even mess with Chinese or Indian cars? There’s more margin on used, without all the branding and hassle of new car dealerships. You sign up some of the divorced dealerships, put a new sign out front, and start delivering Sears-branded replacement parts.

    Hell, if I was running Sears that’s what I’d do. And if that’s what they do, you guys will back me up when I sue them for stealing my idea, right? Right?

  • avatar

    I would dispute the strength of the Sears brand name. They are high-priced, getting killed by numerous competitors, including Wal-Mart, Best Buy, Pep Boys, and a myriad of online retailers.

    The only thing I buy at Sears anymore is *some* Craftsman hand tools, which are of moderate quality but still unique in their availability. I challenge anyone to find a 1-1/8 deep well 6-point socket on a Saturday evening (a problem I recently had). Only Sears had it – not Lowes, Home Depot, Advance Auto, not anyone.

    But as for appliances and car parts & tires, I’ll shop a dozen retailers before I’d pay more at Sears. They can’t compete with Tire Rack or DiscoutTireDirect for tire prices. Their takeover of TireAmerica (converting it to NTB) forever ruined that store. Price and customer experience went in wrong directions after that.

    As for the notion that buying a $5000 Nano is different from a $300 TV, I somewhat disagree. People routinely purchase high-end electronics online. A non-dealer distribution network for low-end cars could work, but I have doubts that Sears can do it successfully.

    • 0 avatar

      Did you try PepBoys? They had a strange little mm sized deep spark plug socket when I needed it at a weird time. I was changing the plugs on my Chinese made 150cc scooter. (Oh wait I see some connection here.)

    • 0 avatar

      Oddly, I needed the socket for work on someone’s bathroom sink. Now I have a really nice socket, but who knows when I’ll use it again.

    • 0 avatar

      As long as many of the comments I’ve read talk about more possible foreign imports into this once great country I guess I’ll, “Join-em” since it looks like we’ll never “Beat-em”. You say you’re looking for that 1-1/8″ six point? Well look no further than your nearest HARBOR FREIHT! For the price of that “ONE” Craftsman socket you can buy a “QUALITY SET” from Harbor Freight including your socket of need along with 14 other sockets up to 2 1/2″, Ratchet, breaker bar, two extensions, and painted( lead paint) metal case!!!!! Before any of you reply that these are Cheap quality and will break, I dare you to break one of these large pieces in this set! unless you use a plasma cutter! You can also be assured there was absolutely no union envolvement in the production of these tools since most of you hate unions and their represented workers.

  • avatar

    One of the dead Chrysler dealers in my area converted its sales department to a “Used Car Supercenter” and kept their service department open as a NAPA Service Center. I think it’s a great idea, and probably opens up things a little for more revenue as it brings more than just one brand into their building for service. I’m curious how their business compares to before.

  • avatar
    Mr Carpenter

    I wouldn’t touch a mainland Chinese made car until it had been on the market for at least 5 years and was in the top 10% of Consumer Report’s receommended lists. I’ve seen too many “questionable” to “absolutely dismal” products from their shores over the past 20 years and don’t trust them as far as I can throw a Cadillac.

    As for Sears possibly selling INDIAN manufactured cars in their auto stores, well, why not?

    Perhaps Hindustan and Mitsubishi would be willing to do an end-run around all of the established auto dealers and work with Sears by selling Sears branded, Indian built Mitsubishi based cars. Why not go straight for the mainstream market? Saturn’s dead – long live SEARS?

    Hindustand manufacture (in India) a mid-sized sedan which could “Piggyback” onto the current Mitsubishi Galant US certifications and could potentially be on the market in months (and it doesn’t look precisely like the US market Galant, could be differentiated further with low cost styling tweaks, new grill, etc). I’ll put a WAG ([email protected] guess) out and say that the car could be sold for $13,000 to $14,000 retail, using “Saturn” pricing.
    Not sure if the prior-generation Lancer that Hindustan build could be imported – it may no longer pass US requirements which have changed.

    Then start bringing in other cars, maybe even to include Taiwanese built Mitsubishi SUV’s (I guess that’d be a Chinese car connection but not what “everyone” seems to be thinking) and sell them as SEARS cars (using the Mitsubishi Outlander as a basis for US certifications – the SUV I’m thinking of is styled differently from the Mitsubishi Outlander to some extent to differentiate it in the market).

    The key will be one HECK of a strong, valid and good warrantee; Sear’s reputation; a good QC department in the manufacturer; and dare I say it? Sharp “fixed” pricing so low that nobody will mind paying “retail”. Obviously the servicing of the cars would be taken care of in this scenario, with Sears having many auto service stores nation-wide.

    One more thing. They’ll have to figure out a way to do fair trade-ins and then simply broom all cars at the nearest auto auctions (and avoid the used car market entirely). Sears shouldn’t be in the used car market!

  • avatar

    Those Sears Allstate vehicles were obviously Kaiser products — a brand that had a short and unspectacular run. Allegedly, the Kaisers vanished as a result of an agreement that Kaiser Steel would stop building cars and US Steel would not start building them. I think the Kaiser brand was destined for the scrap heap anyway. Anyone remember the Crosley minicars? Or the Muntz? Both were ventures of electronics companies.

    • 0 avatar
      Mr Carpenter

      You’re right, the Sears Allstates were in fact built by Kaiser and were pretty much rebadged Henry J’s.

      Kaiser didn’t end in the way you heard; Kaiser bought up Willys Overland (of Toledo Ohio, manufacturers of the Willys Aero compact sedans from 1952-1955 and of Jeeps from 1942 on). The purchase happened in late 1953, because sales had collapsed at Kaiser due to the “sales war.”

      The “sales war” was started by Ford (which had been a distant 3rd behind GM and Chrysler immediately post-war). Ford had naturally passed by Chrysler but Henry II decided he wanted to be #1 again, so he tried the trick of simply ramping up production and sending un-ordered cars to all Ford and Lincoln-Mercury dealers. Dealers would come to work on Monday morning and find receipts shoved in their mailbox with keys, and the streets surrounding the dealership filled with literally truck loads of new cars – unordered.

      When the dealers would call Ford and complain, they were simply asked by the guys at the zone office – you like your franchise? Then sell ’em. So the dealers did – usually for $10-50 over cost (which was unheard of then).

      Naturally, GM couldn’t let that be so they did the same thing!

      The end result was that Kaiser, Willys, Packard, Nash, Hudson, Studebaker and Chrysler’s brands (Plymouth, Dodge, DeSoto, Chrysler and Imperial) all suffered since none of these had the arm twisting abilities of Ford & GM against their dealers. This was the beginning of the end of both the independent auto makers and ironically, the very beginning of the end of the US auto industry 55 plus years later.

      Why do you suppose the laws to protect dealers started to come about? (We see these state laws as onerous, but there were some genuine reasons for them).

      Kaiser bought up Willys, moved all car production to Toledo and sold their massive (and by 1953 way oversized) Ypsilanti production facility to GM (to build Hydramatic automatics since GM had lost their Hydramatic factory in Livonia to a massive fire that summer). Later this plant also built Corvairs, Chevy II’s, Novas and then the infamous X-cars, too. It’s closed now.

      Packard bought Studebaker, which was a massive mistake.

      Nash bought Hudson, which allowed the companies to flourish for awhile under the American Motors banner.

      Kaiser quit making their cars and Willys cars in the US after 1955, and moved production to Argentina and Brazil respectively, and then sold their Jeep business to American Motors in early 1970.

      Yes, Crosley was a car manufacturer (1939-1952) and he also was world famous as being a millionaire, a radio station owner of the once most powerful station in the world (WLS in Cincinnati), and he owned the biggest radio manufacturing business in the world as well as having branched out into refrigerators. He’s the guy who thought of putting shelves into refrigerator doors. I’ve read his autobiography and it was fascinating. He had sports teams too.

      “Mad Man” Muntz was an early, successful television manufacturer in California and he bought up a design and built a few cars, but was a very minor player (in cars).

      Since the 1890’s there have been over 5000 car manufacturers in the United States alone, most of which existed and died prior to WWII.

    • 0 avatar

      If any of the B&B want to do more reading on Kasier check out the story on my second favorite website after this one:

      Parts of the story make me think of some of the exciting things that are going on in the industry today.

    • 0 avatar

      Mr Carpenter,

      Spot on analysis of the K-F situation. To which I’ll add one more detail.

      The biggest weakness in Kaiser and Fraser cars was the six cylinder flathead Continental engine they originally came equipped with. It was a good solid reliable motor, but at something like 100-125hp, couldn’t compete with the new generation of competing V-8’s that started with Cadillac and Oldsmobile.

      Then, for the 1949 model year, Fraser (who had a long history of experience in the industry) advised Kaiser to expect sales to be way down and to cut back production. The Big 3 were bringing out the postwar models, while K-F would only have warmed over 46-48’s. Henry Kaiser refused to, Fraser quit, and K-F lost money big time in ’49, leaving them desperately cash short for the rest of their American production life.

      At this point, K-F had enough money to do two of three possible products: A modern V-8, a complete redesign of the Kaiser, and a compact cheap car. They did the latter two, a really nice job on the Kaiser and what became the Henry J. The Henry J bombed, too cheap in execution and too expensive for what you got. K-F was doomed from that point on. General feeling among auto historians is that the second generation Kaiser with a V-8 as modern as the Oldsmobile’s would have continued to be competitive.

    • 0 avatar
      crash sled

      “Kaiser bought up Willys, moved all car production to Toledo and sold their massive (and by 1953 way oversized) Ypsilanti production facility to GM (to build Hydramatic automatics since GM had lost their Hydramatic factory in Livonia to a massive fire that summer).”


      An interesting read, Mr. C. Thanks.

      In my travels, I’ve had reason to review that Livonia fire, a truly catastrophic event, and one still studied. One spark, and poof, it was over.

      As I recall, the initial combustion event was manageable, but it then spread up to the built-up roofing design, allowing the fire to spread by way of the roofing material, which leaked down onto the plant floor, and thus the fire hopscotched up and down through the facility, moving beyond effected areas at plant floor elevation, then back down, then back up to the roofing for additional spread, then back down again… and so on.

      Thus, then, despite the value clearly being produced there, the overhead structure was not designed to facilitate a healthy enterprise, and this resulted in a GM catastrophe (and the ’53 fire was pretty bad, too).

  • avatar

    The Saturn dealer on Bell Rd here in Phoenix is becoming a Volkswagen dealership. They just put up the new signage a few days ago. There are still plenty of Saturns on the lot but I expect that to change very soon.

    I don’t see Sears selling used cars or the Sears idea in general taking off in today’s marketplace. Sears already has numerous service centers next to shopping malls here in the Valley. the dealerships that got the axe will takeup whatever existing franchise they can get or simply shut down. Like the Pontiac dealer off Frank Lloyd Wright in Scottsdale which is now an empty building.

  • avatar

    Grandpa bought his wife from a Sears catalog.

    She arrived a bit disheveled but appear she did.

    Surprised the wagon could find that little sod shanty upon the plain.

  • avatar

    If they can sell authentic looking Kaisers, pre-set up as gassers, that would be great. New 392 hemi blocks would be a useful option.

    • 0 avatar

      I saw more than one Olds-powered 51-53 Kaiser back in the day. Maybe the fact that Kaiser was buying Hydramatic transmissions from GM for their automatic-trans cars made the swap easier.

  • avatar

    This could be one of the best ways for the Chinese to break into the US market. Look at it as a progression:

    1. Former auto dealer with a decent local reputation becomes a Sears Auto Center. His shop (which for the sake of argument I will assume had a decent reputation) keeps on doing the work it was known for, under the banner of a brand name that still has a pretty good reputation in America – at least on the hard goods side.

    2. Said dealer continues to sell used cars. However, instead of something like the old “OK Used Cars” (Chevrolet, for those who haven’t seen this in years) he’s now selling “Sears Certified” used cars.

    3. Meanwhile, Sears picks very carefully of what Chinese manufacturer it wants to put the Sears brand on the hood and trunk lid. Contrary to some of the comments on this forum, some of these Chinese manufacturers are making decent, reliable vehicles – you just have to know which manufacturer.

    4. So now your Sears Auto Center and Sears Certified used car lot are now selling brand new Sears automobiles, with full parts and service support right there at the dealership.

    As the motorcycle shop I work for showed three years ago, Chinese scooters will sell in the US – as long as they’re well built, reliable, and have a level of parts and service support that the customer can count on. You know, the same thing you look for in an American, Japanese, German, Korean, Italian, etc., vehicle.

    • 0 avatar

      +1 And thank you for the trip down memory lane, I remember when the GM dealer in Continental, OH had the “OK” used cars sign hanging over his used car lot. My dad bought 3 different vehicles under that sign during a 20 year stretch, a time period where he only bought 4 cars. He still has the S10 Blazer he picked up off lease.

    • 0 avatar

      As a child, I thought that “OK Used Cars” meant that they were the only ones that would still be running once you drove them off the lot.

      It’s been fifty plus years, but I’m amazed how much I still remember of my days in dad’s dealership.

  • avatar

    Sears would also sell you a water cooler full of radium rocks, coca(as in cocaine)-wine, and cocaine powder as well.

    Not sure if they carried the Bayer OTC heroin, but the probably did…

    Selling new cars was never the terribly profitable side of the business- the couple of dealers I used to know would say that a new sale was just a way to generate service and warranty work.

    I have never been a fan of the franchised dealer model, and the tech of the last 10 years continues to make dealers less and less relevant.

    It would, however, seem as though the whole reason to eliminate those that were eliminated is not being served when these guys stay in business.

    The point was to thin the heard so that the declining customer base of the D3 could be funneled to a shrunken dealer base. 5 people won’t live long splitting up one cheeseburger, but 2 can do ok.

  • avatar

    This is the kind of article you used to get in the car magazines; it’d be the one that was folded over, and taken to the bathroom for an in-depth read.

    Ed: thank you for waiving the old 800-word article limit. You’re seeing the fruits of that decision here.

    +1 Very true and thank you for the history. You may have given me the excuse to buy an Apple iPad or MS Courier.

    I wonder if Sears is trying to beat Walmart to this idea of joining with ex-dealers?

    If Sears does import cars to sell through this new combination I hope they insist that the ex-dealers fire their old sales managers first.

  • avatar

    If Sears is only selling their name for these import franchise, dealerships, along with service and parts. Is that not like any other franchise?

    Didn’t Sears try to buy Jeep but lost out to Chrysler back in the 70’s (when AMC went under)?

    It seems like a just another dealer group and Sears gets to sell more Diehard items.

    If they do sell imported cars, they could offer a Craftsman type guarantee, which is a good one.

    I would take a second look.

  • avatar
    John Horner

    Wow, Sears makes a smart move. How long has it been since that last happened?

  • avatar

    “Yes, Crosley was a car manufacturer (1939-1952) and he also was world famous as being a millionaire, a radio station owner of the once most powerful station in the world (WLS in Cincinnati), and he owned the biggest radio manufacturing business in the world…”

    Not to be picky, but as a Chicago native, just a coupla details…

    WLS is in Chicago, WLW is in Cincinatti. As an interesting aside, WLS was owned by Sears for about 50 years, IIRC. WLS stood for World’s Largest Store. Like WLW, it was a Class A or clear channel station, which menat that it could put out 50KW and be heard (mostly) across the US at night.

    WLW did actually run at 500 KW for like 5 years, and it was the highest output staion in the country, and probably the world.

    • 0 avatar

      WJR in Detroit is also a clear channel 50KW station. I’ve heard Ernie Harwell call Tigers’ games while driving in NYC. BTW, I think WJR is the only radio station that broadcasts live from the auto shows in Detroit, Chicago, Geneva, and maybe even NY and LA. One morning in Chicago I forgot about the time change and got to the show on the second day an hour early. It was 6AM local time, I was still half asleep and I heard the dulcet tones of Paul W. Smith at McCormick Place and I did a double take.

    • 0 avatar
      Mr Carpenter

      You’re absolutely right. It was WLW, my error.

      I have the coolest 1939 book (leather bound) which is all about technology of the day, including the infant electronic television (and mechanical television too), as well as automotive, locomotive, aeroplane tech, and radio tech too.

      It shows the main tube powering the 1/2 million watts of “the most powerful radio station in the world” (unnamed but it’s WLW). It’s nearly as tall as an adult man.

      Can you imagine the damage if it imploded?!

  • avatar

    I can certainly see why a prospective seller would want to avoid the classic dealership model – once you have dealers you can’t get rid of them. Not even in bankruptcy.

    Would dealers want to become franchised Sears service centers, and then also sell Chinese cars w/o the protection of a dealer franchise agreement?

    Is there actually a way to side-step the traditional dealer model?

    Sears is a troubled company. Were I a recently culled dealer I wouldn’t be looking to partner up with yet another dying badly run company.

  • avatar

    It’s already been mentioned, but Crosley was sold through Sears. Apparently you had to build them yourself?

  • avatar

    Crosley was also a technologic leader, with SOHC engines (1000 cc, head and block in one casting) and 4-wheel disc brakes in the HotShot ragtop. A friend of mine built a weird roadster out of plywood and a VW bug chassis, powered by a Crosley engine. The power plant was small and light enough that it could be lifted in and out of the car without a chain hoist.

  • avatar

    WLW’s claim to be the most powerful station in the US if not the world could have been contested by the old XERA, a station run by a quack, “Goat Gland” Brinkley, after he was run out of Kansas. Wikipedia says: “Brinkley used the old buildings of XER but installed a new 500 kilowatt transmitter with help from two Texas radio engineers. The antenna for XER had been omnidirectional, but the new directional antenna of XERA allowed Brinkley to claim that his station had an effective radiated propagation of one megawatt.”

    The story of Goat Gland Brinkley is fascinating, but deserves much more space than we have here.

  • avatar

    We can all thank Dr. B,
    Who stepped across the line,
    With lots of watts he took control,
    The first one of it’s kind…

    ZZ Top “I Heard It On The X”


    I had forgotten all about him. IIRC, the Mexicans actually let him get up to 1 Million watts at one point, before his political views finally got the worst of him but that was like 1941-42.

    Pretty sure that WLW was at 500KW in the mid 30’s and diploma mill Dr. wasn’t on the air with more than 150Kw at the time. But I’d have to look to be sure.

    Regardless, thanks for reminding me, he was quite a character…

  • avatar

    This article has a blueprint for what to do and not to do if Sears tries this again: (1) don’t offer only rebadged models of cars already in the US market — all you are doing is guaranteeing you are behind the competition on day 1. (2) be a real dealer and take trades. Shouldn’t be a big deal; like any other dealer they can auction the crap tradeins and sell the good ones as “Sears Certified” cars with a national warranty. (3) sell the service angle intensely — every new vehicle has a 100K mile warranty. Worked for Hyundai.

    Given that Craftsman is the strongest Sears brand today, perhaps they should start with Craftsman branded trucks. Like some of the Mahindra trucks that people have been saying ought to be salable in the US. Maybe go for the “solid and simple work truck” market that GM, Ford and Toyota have largely left behind in the race to make Cowboy Cadillacs. And maybe figure out how to properly federalize those Japanese Kei vans/trucks that are already getting sold through sketchy channels as “off road” or “low speed” vehicles but have a funny way of ending up on real roads with the speed governor gone.

    • 0 avatar

      How about a Craftsman Ram pickup?

      When you think about it, maybe it should have been Sears (and not Fiat) that bought Chrysler.

      Better still, maybe Fiat should be talking about partnering with Sears for a deal to sell Craftsman-branded Dodge pickups to help defray some of the monsterous operating costs they’ve got to contend with until they can get their Fiatslers into the showrooms.

      Honestly, considering there are stuff like Harley-Davidson Ford pickups, why hasn’t Craftsman broached the idea already? Craftsman pickups would seem to be a perfect fit.

    • 0 avatar

      Sears, though, dropped its sponsorship of NASCAR’s truck series.

  • avatar
    Mr Carpenter

    Wow, I like the idea of Craftsman trucks. A lot. Perhaps once Chry-slur-FIAT implodes, Sears could pick up the Hemi engine plant and truck plant in old Mexico and turn out Craftsman trucks, as well as maybe just maybe using the plant to also assemble CKD kits from some Indian or Taiwanese auto supplier.

    Sears Craftsman cars AND trucks. Ditto on the need for one heck of a guarantee.

    In fact, to stand out from the competition, I’d not only give the vehicles a 100,000 mile warrantee, but would include all the servicing for the first year/15,000 miles as part of the purchase, too. (This gets the buyers “used to” coming back to Sears for services – hopefully making this a regular habit when they have to pay).

    And use Saturn style no quibble (but fair) pricing. Sears isn’t a damn middle-eastern bazaar; set the price fairly and leave it (except for the occasional sale price, which couldn’t be as steep as it is on other items given the thinner profit margin).

    I can see everyone’s point about trade-ins and used cars. But only sell the BETTER cars and include a warrantee as well as a Carfax on all cars – if they don’t meet standards, broom them at auction.

    Sears tried to tie up with Kaiser way back before they started buying Henry J’s – there were mock-ups of full sized Kaiser/Frazer cars drawn up by Kaiser stylists in the late 1940’s. Some of the board members on Sears’s board were on Kaiser-Frazer’s, too. (You know, “the old boy network”).

  • avatar

    A Kenmore Camaro!

    And, my new refrigerator has Continental suicide doors.

    Truly impressive cross-fertilization.

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