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GMAC Survey Incentive: Spiff or 'Bribe'?

April 22, 2002

General Motors Acceptance Corp. (GMAC) had a better idea last spring – and guess who didn’t like it? Ford dealers.

The General Motors Corp. financing subsidiary offered GM dealers Bose Wave radios, DVD players and $200 Circuit City gift certificates for completing and mailing financing satisfaction forms to J.D. Power and Associates. With the obvious goal of scoring better in third-party-surveys, GMAC said it was hoping to convert higher dealer approval ratings into a marketing tool to gain more business with its dealer customers.

“Our intent was just to promote participation, not to influence survey results,” said James E. Farmer, GMAC’s communications director. The results of the survey will be used to improve GMAC’s services to dealers, he added.

But Jerry Reynolds, owner of Prestige Ford in Garland, Texas, and immediate past chairman of the Ford National Dealer Council, lashed out at GMAC’s ploy. “It’s despicable, and seriously taints all of GMAC’s survey results,” Reynolds declared. “It’s well known that the higher the survey return percentages, the higher the scores. But to offer an out-and-out bribe reaches an all-time low.”

Ford Credit and its subsidiaries offer no survey return incentives beyond a request that the J.D. Power poll be answered, according to Walter H. Jennings, Ford Credit’s global communications vice-president. Ford Credit regards the Power results seriously as a performance yardstick, Jennings said.

For its part, J.D. Power says it is investigating whether GMAC’s initiative has influenced results of the study, says David McKay, head of the organization’s automotive F&I department in Agoura Hills, Calif.

“Certainly, we know that sizeable incentives have been offered to respondents,” McKay notes. “We are looking at this very closely to determine what action should be taken,” he said, adding, “Maintaining the integrity of our study is crucial.”

F&I watchers note the incentive is not unlike the $1 bills or coins enclosed with vehicle performance questionnaires sent out to new owners by automakers as a spur to completion.

“It’s just that GMAC is a bit more generous with their dealers,” said an Indiana dealer familiar with both GM and Ford brands. “But who would skew his survey for a measly $200?”

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