Opinion: Whitacre and Reuss Must Go to Orlando
General Motors Co.'s top executives should rethink the automaker's minimalist approach to next month's National Automobile Dealers Association convention in Orlando, Fla.
After President Barack Obama signed legislation giving GM's 1,350 rejected dealerships the right to independent binding arbitration, GM sent a regrettable message to its dealers. Soon after interim CEO Ed Whitacre and North American President Mark Reuss met with NADA officials -- sources say to blame the association for the legislation -- the automaker all but eliminated its participation in the convention. That means GM will not exhibit at the exposition and GM execs will not attend dealer
make meetings or receptions.
GM says the cutbacks are to save money and aren't related to NADA's support for the new law. But many dealers believe otherwise. To them, the new GM seems punitive and draconian, just like the old GM.
Since then, GM has sent more positive signals. Whitacre publicly said GM would welcome back good dealers who prevail in arbitration, admitting that mistakes may have been made. And speaking at last week's Automotive News World Congress, Reuss said working through the arbitration process with integrity and transparency is a top challenge for him this year.
But that's not enough.
GM could send a powerful message by investing in a couple of coach seats and hotel rooms in Orlando for Whitacre and Reuss. It's probably too late -- and maybe too costly -- for GM to exhibit at the convention. But Whitacre and Reuss should reverse course and attend the make meetings along with the company's sales executives.
Together they can meet and greet dealers, answer questions and listen to dealer concerns. The company says there have been several meetings with dealers during the bankruptcy and restructuring. But many of the players have changed since then.
This is an auspicious moment for GM and its dealers. On the eve of arbitration -- and with the new five-year sales and service agreement being drafted for adoption this year -- it is crucial that the automaker and its retail partners have an open, frank and respectful relationship.
Going to Orlando would be a sign that the automaker's top two executives are committed to achieving that kind of relationship and that the new GM is trying to be different.
Source: Automotive News
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