DETROIT — Bill Underriner, chairman of the National Automobile Dealers Association, outlined two contentious factory issues facing new-car dealers and urged automakers to support a level playing field for dealerships of all sizes.
“Two-tier pricing and mandatory facility upgrades are symptoms of a bigger overall problem — manufacturer intrusion into dealers’ businesses,” Underriner said in remarks to the Automotive Press Association in Detroit last week. “The NADA wants the automakers to stop unfair practices.”
This summer, the NADA created a special dealer task force to focus on the fairness of stair-step programs, also referred to as two-tier pricing, which is a manufacturer-to-dealer incentive tied to sales goals.
“The history of our industry is littered with automaker attempts to impose one-size-fits-all programs on dealers. These efforts at top-down control almost always fail,” added Underriner, a Buick, Honda, Hyundai and Volvo dealer in Billings, Mont. “We favor lawful, equal and fair treatment by a manufacturer for all its dealers. Unfortunately, history shows that, at times, manufacturers create incentive programs that favor some dealers over others.”
Underriner cited the “incredible diversity among dealer businesses” as a reason why these programs are often unsuccessful. Dealerships range from being publicly traded or privately-owned to mass-market or single-point dealers competing in distinct urban and rural regions of the country.
“There is equal diversity in local market conditions and customer preferences across the country,” he added as another reason why these automaker programs fail. “Distant corporations simply cannot understand or respond effectively to these differences. We know our customers’ preferences and local market conditions better than anyone — certainly far better than a corporation with headquarters thousands of miles away.”
NADA has also commissioned its second study on factory-mandated dealership renovation programs to analyze the return on investment. These programs often require a dealer to invest millions of dollars.
The NADA’s first study recommended that automakers get more dealer input into these programs early in the process. “This is when dealers can help automakers shape a program that’s well received by dealers at large,” Underriner added.
Since the first study, the NADA has added pertinent questions about facility image mandates to its Dealer Attitude Survey, which is conducted twice a year. The results of the survey are reviewed by high-level executives from the automakers.
The second phase of the project will also focus on what the dealership of the future will look like. “We want to know whether we are investing in the kind of dealership that will be most competitive in 2020 and beyond,” Underriner said.
Click here for Underriner's full speech.