It took a bit of research to fully parse the California New Car Dealer Association’s complaint against Chrysler and its partially company-owned store in Los Angeles, and our finding is that the CNCDA is actually gunning for Chrysler with gusto. But, argued some of the B&B, surely Chrysler doesn’t want to be kicked out of California? Surely Chrysler’s California dealers don’t want to see their manufacturer banned from selling vehicles in the state? Well, it turns out we were missing a little context that seems to indicate why Chrysler’s California dealers are willing to go to war over a single dealership: Chrysler is overhauling its California retail presence with the help of Wall Street hedge funds. Having used the bailout to wipe out 789 dealerships across the country, Chrysler appears to be working around franchise law to exert more control over its retail network in the Golden State. No wonder then that California’s dealers are standing together to attack Motor Village, the most egregious example of Chrysler’s new retail model. And there’s no knowing where the conflict could end…
Chrysler’s bailout-era dealer cull has ended up being something of a nightmare, with a number of dealers successfully fighting for reinstatement as federal investigators look into possible criminal wrongdoing. And whereas GM has basically rolled back much of its dealer cull, Chrysler has consistently used arbitrary calculi for closing dealers and has resisted giving dealers the opportunity to reclaim their franchises. Now, the dealers that have won reinstatement in congressionally-mandated arbitration hearings are facing a new threat: relocation. Automotive News [sub] reports that Chrysler’s method of dealing with reinstated dealers is to force them to relocate wherever Chrysler wants them to go. Chrysler has filed a request in a Michigan District Court, asking for the ability to relocate some 20 dealers in 6 Midwestern states, a move it says it must undertake in order to protect its non-culled dealers. But, having picked the winners and losers among its dealers only to see some of them reinstated, shouldn’t these reinstated dealers be afforded the same rights as the dealers who weren’t culled in the first place?
As Automotive News [sub] reports, GM has gone ahead and finalized the 500 dealer cuts that made up its bankruptcy-bailout-era dealer cull, despite resistance from some 22 members of the US House of Representatives. And despite the congressional pressure, a damning SIGTARP report, and an ongoing criminal investigation, GM hasn’t changed its tune about cutting dealers, telling AN [sub] that delaying dealer cuts
would only divert our collective attention at a critical time and would ignore the independent decisions of arbitrators and individual settlement agreements between GM and its dealers
Meanwhile, just what affect has the dealer cull had on surviving dealerships? Are they thriving? Well, not exactly…
Ohio Republican Reps LaTourette and Boehner have officially requested that President Obama suspend GM’s dealer wind-down agreements until the Special Inspector General for TARP (SIGTARP) completes an investigation of the government-approved GM and Chrysler dealer culls. The representatives focused on the fact that SIGTARP’s initial report on the dealer cull, which had criticism for GM, Chrysler and the government task force, wasn’t publicized until after arbitration for culled dealers ended. WKYC quotes the representatives’ statement as saying
There is too much at stake to proceed in an atmosphere where dealers were denied so much crucial information in a process rife with secrecy. As the findings of this investigation may shed much needed light on the proceedings affecting hundreds of dealerships nationwide, we believe it is necessary to thoroughly analyze its results before continuing with the closures of hundreds of dealerships, and the potential loss of thousands of jobs.
And Republicans aren’t alone in urging a halt to wind-down proceedings pending the SIGTARP’s latest investigation… Democrat Dennis Kucinich has already staked out the position now occupied by the House Republican leader. And did the artist sometimes known as “Government Motors” blink in the face of bipartisan pressure?
Back in July, the Special Inspector General for the TARP program (SIGTARP) released a damning report on GM and Chrysler’s efforts to cull dealers during their government-overseen bailout-bankruptcies. The upshot: GM and Chrysler handled the culls either inconsistently or subjectively, and the President’s auto task force pressed the issue unnecessarily and “without sufficient consideration of the decisions’ broader economic impact.” And though that report, the product of a year’s worth of investigation, made the automakers and their government “saviors” look mighty stupid, the awkward walk-back of most of the dealer cuts had already made the point fairly well. But with the TARP program now largely rolled up, the SIGTARP’s office has been bulking up on investigators, targeting fraud and criminal activity around the entire TARP program. And, according to Automotive News [sub], the dealer cull is on the agenda. SIGTARP won’t “disclose the targets of the investigation or the actions being probed,” but it has “opened a follow-up investigation of possibly illegal activity in the [dealer-cull] effort.”
Automotive News [sub] reports that 19 rejected Canadian GM dealers have been given the green light to sue GM as a class, rather than go through the arbitration process that is being used to resolve dealer cull disputes in the US. The dealers are suing GM for breach of their dealer agreements, and for failing to provide compensation beyond wind-down costs. They argue that the arbitration process would be expensive for dealers, non-transparent to the taxpayers who funded GM’s reorganization, and would put GM at an unfair advantage.
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.
GM’s recent reinstatement of 661 culled dealers has put pressure back on Chrysler to come to arrangement with the dealers it shed during last year’s bankruptcy and bailout. Rep. Chris VanHollen, the sixth ranking Democrat in the House or Representatives, tells Automotive News [sub] that with GM buckling to dealer pressure, the time has come for Chrysler to follow suit. “There’s no quicker or easier way to build this network than to reinstate its terminated car dealerships,” says VanHollen, who drafted much of congress’s dealer arbitration legislation. The Committee to Restore Dealer Rights contacted Chrysler CEO Sergio Marchionne “to discuss the reinstatement of the rejected dealers who had their franchises so abruptly taken and were unfairly terminated.” The response?
We believe that all communications concerning the subject matter of the arbitration should be between counsel and request that your clients follow this procedure in the future. Please ask them not to send such communications to Mr. Marchionne or any other Chrysler personnel.
Oh snap! Chrysler isn’t going down without a fight… even if that means taking on the representatives who have oversight of the government’s eight percent stake in the automaker.
The Colorado House’s passage of HB-1049 [ PDF here], a bill requiring restitution for dealers culled during the Chrysler and GM bankruptcies, has drawn a $60,000 “no” campaign from General Motors. The Denver Post reports that GM’s ad campaign, which features lines like “we must keep driving forward to repay our government loans,” and “don’t let special interests stick taxpayers in reverse,” has riled up local lawmakers more than ever, drawing such timeless put-downs as: “they must be spending tax dollars on Botox to say that with a straight face.” The bill would require OEMs compensate culled dealers for signs, parts, dealer upgrades and more, as well as offer them the right of first refusal for any new area dealerships.
It’s not a question that should leave many folks on the fence, but apparently there are at least a few Detroit-area journalists who might be willing to consider the career change. “Dealers optimistic about Chrysler’s future” proclaims the Detroit News headline from NADA’s annual convention. A more accurate headline (such as USAToday‘s “Chrysler dealers face new-model drought”) probably should have included the term “punch-drunk” to better explain this unexpectedly sunny outlook. One grizzled ChryCo dealer sums up the mood with aplomb:
We’re the toughest fighters. We’ve always been 3 or 4 (in the marketplace). We’ve never been spoon-fed. We have to fight for every piece of ground… There’s light at the end of the tunnel; I just don’t like the length of the tunnel.
The Globe and Mail reports that Toronto-based Trillium Motor World has filed a $750m class action suit on behalf of 215 culled Canadian GM dealers. The suit names General Motors and, in an interesting twist, its law firm Cassels Brock & Blackwell LLP. According to a suit’s statement of claim, Cassels Brock was representing Canada’s federal government in bailout talks with GM at the same time as it was representing the Canadian Automobile Dealers Association, a relationship it never disclosed to the dealers. Conflict of interest much?
Chrysler may file a suit challenging the congressionally mandated dealer cull arbitration, reveals CEO Sergio Marchionne to Automotive News [sub].Why? Because it’s just not fair that dealers pressured congress to give them a fair shake. Wounded by the arbitrary backlash against his arbitrary cull, Marchionne threw his head back and cried unto the heavens:
Ask me what fairness is involved in all this. Why doesn’t anyone ask what’s fair to Chrysler?
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