- The Washington Times - Friday, July 31, 2009

Terminated auto dealers’ bid to regain their lost franchises could be running out of time as internal divisions keep them from negotiating a so-called “nonlegislative solution,” observers say.

The urgency is growing because legislation to restore the lost General Motors and Chrysler franchises is thought to face obstacles in the Senate, where supporters say so far it has garnered 31 bipartisan co-sponsors.

The legislation flew through the House with significant backing from two top House Democrats from Maryland - Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer and Rep. Chris Van Hollen. Maryland-based auto dealers have been among the most vocal in opposing the dealer closings.

But even the House leaders and other supporters from both parties have increasingly called for a workable compromise, especially since President Obama came out strongly against the legislation earlier this month.

The National Association of Automobile Dealers (NADA) has yet to come to the table.

NADA represents all dealers - those terminated by GM and Chrysler and those staying open.

Dealers are economically dependent on the automakers, making NADA susceptible to the heavy pressure they are applying.

The dealers are also aligned in four separate national organizations - NADA, an association of state dealer groups, the minority dealers association, and the newly created Committee to Restore Dealer Rights.

Responding to the criticism, spokesman David Hyatt said NADA has been “actively involved in building a consensus” in recent days and has made “significant progress.”

The automakers say they remain open to talks but only with NADA - the group they have the most influence over.

Area auto dealer Jack Fitzgerald, a co-founder of the Committee to Restore Dealer Rights, said he has long sought talks but has been rebuffed.

GM and Chrysler are not in positions to offer their own cash settlements to affected dealers - beyond those GM is already paying - because they are operating with government funds.

Dealers are divided between those who want money and those who want their franchises back.

“The manufacturers want to talk about alternatives to giving the franchises back, like giving money instead,” Mr. Fitzgerald said . “It’s hard for an association [such as NADA] to say they don’t want money.

“We want our franchises back. It doesn’t cost any money.”

A GM spokesman said the company had some proposals but that cash settlements and restoring franchises are not among them.

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