I sense that his view is gathering wider acceptance. The Obama administration's handling of the automotive industry is becoming increasingly problematic.
We're being led by an administration that views automobiles as egregious dinosaurs that must be quickly shrunk and weaned from fossil fuels, and the executive power and legislative supermajority we've given them already has produced stifling initiatives like Cap and Trade, Cash for Clunkers and tougher CAFE standards, with more to come.I took our president at his word when he proclaimed he had no desire to "run" an automotive company. However, when the government becomes the owner of what once was a private company, things change and rather quickly.
Evidence of this is starting to surface. Specifically, 789 Chrysler and 1,124 General Motors dealers were told they would no longer be franchised sales outlets for their respective suppliers. Now we learn that in at least two instances, disenfranchised dealers went to their elected representatives, who, in turn, used their political clout to persuade "Government Motors" to reinstate their franchises. This is all too reminiscent of how business was done in the Godfather movies. A disgruntled constituent goes to the Godfather and explains how he was treated unjustly. If the offended party "wets the beak" of the Godfather enough to curry favor, there is a high degree of probability that the Godfather will intervene on his behalf.
A few years back a longtime friend took a job as the head of a trade association. I remember asking her how the job was going and how she was adjusting to aspects of "working the Hill." She replied, "Bob, you don't want to know how the process works. I go to every meeting on Capitol Hill with an envelope containing a check in hand."
How did these disenfranchised dealers get their franchises back? Did it involve "check in hand" meetings with their representatives? I am trying to understand the difference between what my friend described and the Don Corleone school of problem resolution. I don't see much difference.
If this is how the game is played, what is next? What happens when the OEMs tell their new partners in Washington that their real problem with returning to profitability is that they are not making the money they are entitled to on service and repairs? What if they point out documented cases of aftermarket suppliers selling tires that fall apart and lightweight brake rotors that are endangering the lives of millions of registered voters?
This is not the America I know. A free society and free markets are what made this country great, not currying favor from a career politico who is perpetually campaigning and fund raising. I don't think this is the sort of "change" any of us signed up for.
Bob Moore is president of Bob Moore & Partners, a consulting firm that specializes in the automotive aftermarket. Moore, a SEMA board member, can be reached at [email protected].