Chrysler Gets Down With The Dealers
Chrysler’s awkward, year-long fandango with unwanted dealers is poignantly encapsulated in a strange little anecdote hidden in the back of today’s Automotive News [sub]. Headlined, “Rejected-store worker’s chat with Sergio was just smoke,” the piece told of a chance encounter several weeks ago between Fiat/Chrysler CEO Sergio Marchionne and culled dealer Jim Casper, while enjoying a smoke at a seafood restaurant bar.
“Are you a rejected dealer?” Marchionne asked [after Casper introduced himself].
“I work for a rejected dealer,” Casper replied.
“Do you know why you were rejected?” the CEO asked.
“To be honest, sir, we have absolutely no idea,” Casper said.
Now why would Sergio guess that Casper was with a “rejected dealer,” a term used by dealers protesting Chrysler on Youtube? It could have been awkward if Casper were just a good soldier looking for a pat on the back from his CEO. Actually, on second though, it couldn’t have been any more awkward than what (apparently) actually happened.
Casper asked Marchionne if he had received the two letters his father-in-law, the culled dealership’s owner, had sent. As AN [sub]tells it:
One letter asked Chrysler to consider restoring the store’s franchises if the company were to open new points in the area. A second letter asked the automaker to refrain from appointing a new dealer in Mealey’s territory until Mealey’s arbitration was complete.
“Jim, I don’t recall,” Marchionne said. “But I open everything that’s addressed to me.”
Casper followed up the next day with an e-mail thanking Marchionne and attaching the two letters in case the CEO couldn’t find them. The e-mail also invited Marchionne to call him.
Casper never heard from Marchionne, just as his family never got a response to the two earlier letters.
But Casper’s lawyer got a message from a Chrysler lawyer.
“Chrysler Group believes that communications about the case ought to be between counsel,” the March 19 e-mail said, according to a copy provided by Casper. “Please ask your clients not to send such communications to Mr. Marchionne or any other Chrysler personnel. Chrysler Group is not in a position at this time to make the call [to Marchionne] that your clients suggest.”Burn! That’s what they call “getting Darvished” in Auburn Hills. But this isn’t just a sad story about an awkward encounter. Thanks to Automotive News [sub]’s decision to splash the headline “Chrysler shifts tone on dealers” across its front page, there’s ironic counterpoint as well. Though Chrysler has offered to reinstate 50 dealers and is talking to more (Casper’s 2,000-unit-per-year shop not included), other dealers and their lawyers are saying things likeChrysler continues to resist and contest each and every step in arbitration
The recent discovery fights, confidentiality disagreements, and other joys of litigation may be new, but the tone sounds mighty familiar. And with sales stagnant and an incentive battle underway, Chrysler needs dealers on its side. Maybe the next time a dealer intrudes on his hard-earned bar time, Sergio will at least offer to buy the guy a drink.
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