March 25 08:40 PM

It just feels un-American to me

September 02, 2009
Being in business these days, no matter what type, is gut-wrenching, painful, and uncertain.

From candlestick makers to auto dealers, there is uncertainty in the air. It's the harsh reality of the times. And the reality is Lapeer County could find itself without a General Motors dealership. Not a single one. Already Victor George and Roberts Buick are for all practical purposes closed. Only Milnes Chevrolet here in Imlay City and Merollis GMC in Lapeer are left.

If GM does pull the plug on them, what does that mean to the loyal GM buyer? Where will they go for sales and service?

It appears GM and our government's "Car Czar" feels their loyal customers will drive 35 to 70 miles to Davison, Flint, Port Huron or Romeo for sales and service. Like it or not!


So will you?

Milnes Chevrolet doesn't think so and is circulating petitions to answer that very question. Simply stop into their dealership and ask for one.

The "Car Czar" and other bureaucrats felt one of the answers to GM's troubles was to reduce the number of dealerships. So they encouraged, heck, instructed GM to slash dealer numbers. GM said this would save them money—but will it really or is there more to the story?

I don't know about you, but it all seems "un-American" to me.

Dave Morningstar of Dryden told me, "Cutting dealerships makes no sense to me. It's nuts, absolutely nuts. I have yet to hear one legitimate answer to how car dealers cost the manufacturer money."

"GM does not subsidize these dealers. It's the dealers, not GM who finance floor plans, pay their taxes and employees," Dave went on to say.

"As far as I know they pay for literature, signage and even tools. This is nothing more than political double-talk, that's all," he continued.

I asked Dave if they did close the remaining GM dealerships in Lapeer County, would he drive 35 to 70 miles to get his vehicles serviced?

"I would not. It's just not time effective, we are talking the better part of an hour to drive there, and at least a couple hours for the repair, it would eat up an entire half day," Dave told me.

He went on to say, "If they close my local dealership, I suspect I'll never buy another GM vehicle!

"I have only owned one non-GM vehicle my entire life, I'm 63 years old. I've bought at least ten from Milnes, I like doing business there, they are good guys. GM will lose a loyal customer," Dave concluded.

I can't help but wonder if GM or our "Car Czar" factored in what their customers thought or if they even cared.

Perhaps, after years of loyalty it simply didn't matter to them?

GM was told by our government they should take a lesson from Toyota or Nissan, and was encouraged to have fewer dealerships. With less competition between dealers the car buyer is forced to pay more and GM gets a little bigger piece of the pie, as the Toyota plan illustrates. By herding all potential customers to one "mega-store location" as Toyota has, the consumers' buying power will be diminished. Instead we become a number to some sales-type clerk who simply takes orders. Service prices will undoubtedly increase and so will the sale prices.

Freedom of choice will be gone. What's next, force-fed colors of black and gray? Yes, it smells un-American to me.

Closed dealerships means even more layoffs, this time in small communities who depend on every business they can get.

Last time I looked at the market reports, Ford was making gains in market share. Meanwhile, GM and even the shining example of capitalism, Toyota, were losing market share. Ford didn't close any dealerships, yet somehow they are managing an increase in market share.

Does this make any sense to you? Can you help me understand this thought process?

Would I drive farther to buy a Toyota? Of course not!

And would I drive farther to have it serviced once I bought it? Of course not!

Nor do I think I would buy a GM vehicle if there wasn't a dealer here...I'd lean toward buying a Ford or Chrysler, companies who keep an investment in my local community.

Imagine, if you will, buying the rights (a franchise) to sell a certain product, building a showroom with one purpose—to sell that product—and possibly having the rug yanked out from under you.

These dealerships have all been good company men, preaching the company line, believing in the company, selling their products and investing in the company.

It feels, looks and smells to me, horribly, "un-American."

Who would have thought such a thing could happen here, the land of "Apple Pie and Chevrolet?"

There are few companies more intertwined with their communities than car dealerships. We have three good car dealers in our community. They are all worth fighting for and all very valuable to our community.

I'm no economist, and there is much I don't understand about the current crisis we are in. But this I do know, every high school, every middle or elementary school, most all civic organizations, little league programs and festivals depend on contributions from our dealerships. And for the most part, they are willing to contribute.

There are local jobs at stake, and local vendors, cleaning companies, towing companies, tire and parts outlets, print shops, and yes, newspapers to name a few that will lose business without a healthy car dealership. Not to mention the taxes our community will lose, which supports our police, fire and ambulance departments.

In good times our Lapeer County dealerships have contributed thousands of dollars a year back into the community.

The tough part is knowing none of these Lapeer County dealerships did anything wrong. They all towed the company line, woke up each day with the hope of selling and servicing their customers, their friends and their neighbors. Yet, someone, somewhere decided they must go, that somehow they are the problem and not cost effective to the company.

The true tragedy is nobody really wins, not the automaker, not the workers and certainly not the community.

I would encourage you to send this newspaper a letter to the editor supporting our remaining dealerships. And from there we will forward it anyone who will listen, perhaps it's not too late to correct what is a tragic mistake by what was once one of this country's truly great companies.

It all just feels so very un-American!

Editor's note: If you would like to comment on this column, email Randy at:

If you would like to write a letter in support of these Lapeer County dealers email, attn: Editor or write to Tri-City Times, PO Box 278, Imlay City MI 48444.

If you are opposed to driving 35 to 70 miles for GM sales and service, stop by Milnes Chevrolet in Imlay City to sign the petition.

Castle Creek
03 - 25 - 19
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