You don't have to be a former autoworker to have been affected by the automotive industry's problems. All U.S. taxpayers have been affected, as have many community and state economies.
I personally was affected — in a relatively minor way — when Chrysler sent letters of termination to 789 dealerships in May 2009. Mine was among them. The facility closed shortly after receiving the letter, and the Dodge dealership across the road hung a banner that said its service department now was Chrysler-certified.
On my first visit to Dodge, I asked my technician if he could get my Jeep's service records from my former dealership, one of many in the state — selling various brands — that bear a prominent dealer's name. He replied that he couldn't and indicated that the defunct dealership was not receptive to the idea. I couldn't understand why at the time. My thinking was that common decency and the desire for former customers to visit another of your dealerships when buying a new car might be incentives enough to cooperate. I think I may understand now, but it really doesn't matter.
This morning, I read an article on CNN.com about terminated dealerships finally getting explanations for and an opportunity to appeal the shutdowns. By the end of this week, Chrysler and GM are slated to send letters to all 2,000 dealerships marked for termination summarizing the criteria by which the franchise was chosen for closure. Dealers then will have 10 days — until Jan. 25 — to decide whether or not they want to take their case to an arbitrator. Some dealers think this action is far "too little, too late."
Take Wayne Williams, the owner of Wayne Williams Motor Co., Crockett, Texas. Commenting on the opportunity, Williams said, "I wouldn't have it back if (Chrysler) gave it to me. I was in business here for 41 years, and they dropped me in the grease.
"As far as arbitration, I wouldn't put forth the effort to get that new car franchise back. I am through with them."
Williams is now in business as a used car dealership and auto repair shop. He still employs all 10 workers he had before the termination but is operating at a loss to avoid laying them off.
The arbitration process will take money and time; the government has mandated that arbitration be completed by June 14.
As reported in the CNN article, GM's new CEO, Ed Whitacre, expects the process to restore "hundreds" of dealerships. Chrysler has not offered a forecast.
GM has already revived more than 80 of the roughly 1,300 dealerships it initially targeted for termination through its own appeals process.
According to CNN, Pete Lopez, the president and CEO of Spencer Auto Group in Spencer, W.V., is among those given a reprieve. Lopez's dealership was a dual Chrysler and General Motors franchise; both companies sent him a termination notice. In June, he traveled to Washington to testify at a Senate hearing about the devastating effect the shutdowns would have on affected businesses.
"When we had that hearing, I met [then-GM CEO] Fritz Henderson, and he admitted they made some quick decisions and they were going to go back and look at things," Lopez said. "They did, and they gave me my dealership back. GM has been nothing but honorable."
Lopez is less impressed with Chrysler. While GM sent dealers notices that their franchises would be discontinued in October 2010, Chrysler ordered immediate terminations, giving owners less than 30 days to wind down their businesses. Lopez doesn't plan to enter arbitration with Chrysler; he's ready to let the brand go, particularly after being told by an American Arbitration Association representative that the process offers no guarantees beyond the chance to be in the same room with a Chrysler rep.
Maybe that's what my former dealer was waiting for. Maybe he plans to appeal the termination and reopen if he is successful. If that's the case, his decision to retain the records makes sense, but it likely will not help him retain those of us who've moved on to other service providers.
I like my new provider. It's refreshing to go in for routine service and not have the technician whose "taken care of you" for almost 10 years walk into the waiting room with a long list of "problems" that carry a huge price tag and tell you you'll get the 10 percent good customer discount. That's right. I was unhappy with the service at my former dealership (they never succeeded in solving the climate control problem), but it had my vehicle's history and just had to be the best place to have it serviced. Now, I wouldn't drive across the street to have it serviced there if they begged me. Like Wayne Williams, I'm through with them. So, I guess you could say that in some small way, Chrysler's woes have had a positive effect on me.
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