- The Washington Times - Monday, December 9, 2002

Auto dealers say their relationships with manufacturers are better than they have been in 16 years, thanks in large part to big incentives that have moved cars quickly off the lots.
But dealers of American cars said they still pay too much to conduct business and have asked domestic carmakers to stop pushing costs on to dealers, reports J.D. Power and Associates' 2002 Dealer Attitude Study.
Overall, dealers said that despite a slow economy, they made money in the past year and were optimistic about the potential for future profits.
The study said dealers were pleased with how manufacturers reacted to a slow economy partially brought on by the September 11 attacks. In the fall of 2001 and into this year, many carmakers offered zero-percent financing and other deals to stimulate spending and keep sales figures afloat. Increased sales led to more money for dealers.
Sales figures compared with a year ago have dipped in recent months. But sales were so high at the end of last year that dealer satisfaction hit the highest level in the 16-year history of the survey. Furthermore, the incentives helped some domestic manufacturers shed a reputation among dealers that they had pulled back from marketing efforts.
"Ford and General Motors have successfully mended fences with many of their dealers after pulling back from retail initiatives," said Chris Denove, a partner at J.D. Power and Associates.
The study is based on responses from 3,385 dealers interviewed from August to October. Manufacturers were rated on a scale of 0 to 175. The industry average was 108, 15 points higher than last year.
Lexus topped the list with a score of 169, followed by Toyota at 146, Saturn at 144 and BMW at 138. The study says Lexus has created systems and policies that make it easier and less expensive for dealers to conduct business.
Four U.S. carmakers General Motors Corp. products Saturn, GMC, Cadillac and Chevrolet rated above the industry average. A host of major domestic manufacturers, including Buick, Chrysler, Dodge, Ford, Lincoln, Mercury, Oldsmobile and Pontiac, finished below average.
Many dealers, particularly those selling domestic automobiles, said carmakers shift too much of the cost of business to the dealers.
Cadillac was ranked the most-improved manufacturer, jumping 34 points in the past year. The study said that dealers have started to realize the efforts the once-stodgy company has made to attract younger drivers.

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