Sign the Petition!

Saturday, February 21, 2009

New Look for Earl Stewart On Cars

Earl Stewart On Cars is two years, eight months, and four days old - it's time for a fresh look! The new logo is based on a photo of me in the SeaView 960 studios in Palm Beach Gardens. Please tell me how you like it (or if you don't). I want to make sure it is easy to read and navigate, so feel free to post your comments.

Earl

Monday, February 16, 2009

Oil Prices are Down.. But Gas is Going Up???

Just when we were getting used to cheap gas, higher prices are right around the corner.

On the front page of today’s PB Post business section you have another headline article explaining that gas stations are going out of business due to low margins and high costs. Fewer gas stations means less competition means higher gas prices.

You can read in this article that gas prices will rise to $2.50 before spring; who knows how high it will reach in the summer?

Here's the AP story that ran in this morning's Palm Beach Post:

http://hosted.ap.org/dynamic/stories/G/GAS_PRICES_UNHINGED?SITE=FLPAP&SECTION=HOME&TEMPLATE=DEFAULT&CTIME=2009-02-15-21-07-33

Open Letter to President Obama re “Car Czar task force”

Dear President Obama,

I was disappointed to learn that you have decided not to appoint a single “car czar” to oversee the reorganization of our domestic auto manufacturers, but to appoint a “task force”.

You have my application for “car czar” and just in case it was misplaced, I’m enclosing another copy below. Please consider this as my new application for a member of your task force operating under Treasury Secretary Geithner and White House Economic Advisor, Lawrence Summers.

I can understand why you might be shy about making another major appointment after what you’ve been through with Timothy Geithner, Bill Richardson, Tom Daschle, Nancy Killefer, and Judd Gregg. However, rest assured there are no skeletons in my closet and I welcome a thorough vetting.


Application for Auto Czar Task Force Position
Open Letter to Barrack Obama
Cc: Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner
Cc: Economic Advisor Lawrence Summers

Dear Mr. President [Written while still President-elect],

I just read that U.S. House Rep. Barney Franks was sponsoring a bill to address the auto crisis which would call for an “Auto Czar” to facilitate the recovery of the American auto industry. I’m applying for this position and explaining why I may be qualified for this important task.

Rather than attempt to call or write you on this subject, I’ve chosen my blog, www.EarlStewartOnCars.com as the means of communicating this message. This is because I understand that you must be overwhelmed with requests for positions in your administration. Secondly, I believe that the Internet is a powerful tool that you recognize and accept a major one for communications in the 21st century. As you know, it was instrumental in the fund raising for your successful election…something that had never before occurred in a Presidential election.

Below I list a brief summary of my qualifications. Your staff can “Google me” for more information and, of course, I will furnish them with all additional information that they require.

(1) I’m 68 years old and have been an automobile dealer since 1968. I’ve been a dealer for Pontiac, Mazda, Peugeot, Lancia, Fiat, Checker, and Toyota. I’ve also owned and operated rental companies and independent used car lots. I’ve all my dealerships except for my Toyota which I’ve owned and operated since 1975.
(2) I’m in good health [had a bout with colon cancer in 2005 but am 100% cancer free now] and currently very active in my business which has grown to become one of the largest Toyota dealerships in the USA.
(3) I graduated from the University of Florida in 1963 with a BS, majoring in physics with a minor in mathematics. I earned my Masters of Science degree in Industrial Administration from the Krannert School at Purdue in 1964.
(4) In recent years I’ve assumed the role of a consumer advocate for car-buyers in Florida and nationwide. As you know, the image of the car dealer has not been exemplary [tarnished much as that of politicians and lawyers] and I’ve taken on the mission to “clean up our act”. I host a local weekly radio talk show and write a weekly column for a local newspaper advocating these positions. I also regularly speak at public libraries, civic groups, condominium associations, schools, retirement clubs, etc. on this subject.
(5) I have no “skeletons in my closet” and welcome a thorough vetting of my past.
(6) My only motive is to help our country with our economic crisis. I agree to serve at zero monetary compensation and aspire to no further political office.
(7) I understand and support our nation’s need for energy independence and for our global need to reduce carbon emissions in the atmosphere. My Toyota dealership is the largest retailer of hybrid vehicles in the USA except for California. Last year we ranked #12. I accomplished this by selling my hybrid vehicles at lower prices even when demand exceeded supply and afforded many dealers the opportunity to charge premium prices.

(7) My business is a family one including my three sons who are ready, willing, and able to run my business if you select me as your Auto Czar. As a matter of fact, my three sons voted for you. However I must confess that my wife, Nancy and I voted for John McCain. I only mention this because our family believes in freedom of expression and choice even within the confines of our own family. One of my favorite quotations is that of F. Scott Fitzgerald who said, “The test of a great mind is the ability to hold two opposed ideas at the same time and still retain the ability to function”. I think you agree with this because of the way you are welcoming suggestions from both sides of the aisle, the only qualification being “will it work?”

In summary, I have a unique perspective over those who may be considered for the position of Auto Czar. My primary concern is for our country’s car buyers followed by the car dealers and manufacturers. All three concerns are very important, but it’s the American citizen who relies on his automotive that will drive the future success of the manufacturers and dealers.

Respectfully yours,

Earl Stewart

Monday, February 09, 2009

Maybe Your Car Dealer is a Good Guy

I wrote this article in October of 2007 and it ran again in 2008 after I received a phone call from Ted Smith, the President of the Florida Automobile Dealers Association, FADA. In Ted’s call, he told me that he knew most Florida car dealers and they were mostly honest, good people.

Accepting Ted Smith’s assertion and I know Ted to be a man of very high integrity, I still have this “axe to grind” with Florida car dealers. You do not make yourselves accessible to your customers. You rely on your managers, computers, and reports.

There is a Japanese phrase, “genchi genbutsu”, which translated literally means “go to the place and see”. Toyota Motor Corp. employs this principal. Even the Chairman of the Board of Toyota will often go into a manufacturing plant, walk out onto the floor, roll up his sleeve, and plunge it into an oil sump of a machine tool to find out why parts are not being milled to perfection. The Chairman of Toyota knows what’s going on and all his managers know that he knows this too. It keeps everybody on their toes!

This principal is why I have my red phones, give my home number to my customers, and don’t allow any call screening or automatic answer services in my dealership.


What to do if you are Treated Badly by a Car Dealer

Hopefully the sales or service experience with your car dealer went well. But, sometimes they don’t. Now what? The advice I give you applies to all business transactions, not just car dealerships.

Your first step should be to communicate your complaint ASAP to the General Manager or, preferably, the owner. Be sure that you are talking to the real owner or the real general manger. A General Manager is over all employees in the entire company. A general “sales” manager is not a General Manager. If you can’t reach the owner (Many car dealerships are either publicly owned or owned by absentee owners), ask to see the General Manager. Often times the owner or General Manager is not aware of everything that goes on with all of their customers and employees. They might have new employee that should not have been hired or received inadequate training. Or, they may simply have a “rotten apple” that should not be working there. The ease and speed with which you can meet and speak to a General Manager or an owner is a pretty good measure of the integrity of the company as whole. If the owner or General Manager cares enough about her customers to allow total access, it is probably a very good place to do business. In fact, it is a good idea to find this out before you do business.

If you cannot reach the owner or General Manager, contact the manufacturer who franchises the dealership. Car dealers have a contract with the manufacturer called a franchise agreement and this contractual agreement requires that they treat their customers with courtesy, efficiency and integrity. Most manufacturers have a customer hotline that allows you to call and register a complaint directly. The owner or General Manager of the dealership will be made aware of your complaint. As you might guess, the manufacturer has quite of bit of clout with their dealer. If a dealer does not live up to his side of the contract, his franchise could be canceled or not renewed.

The third step I recommend, if numbers one and two don’t work, is to contact a consumer agency like The Better Business Bureau or the County Office of Consumer Affairs. These agencies will send your complaint to the dealership and request a written reply. No car dealership or business wants an unanswered complaint in the file of a governmental or private consumer agency.

Your last resort is to contact an attorney. I list this last because hiring an attorney just about eliminates the possibility that you can quickly, amicably and inexpensively resolve your differences with the car dealer. Be very careful which attorney you choose. Try to choose one that is primarily interested in helping you and not in generating large fees for himself. Under the Florida Unfair and Deceptive Trade Practices Act, an attorney is entitled to his fees and costs from the defendant in a lawsuit if he wins. These fees can be much larger than the amount of your claim, motivating an unethical attorney to spend more time than is needed and dragging out a case to generate more fees than are necessary. This can be very dangerous for you because the car dealer’s attorney’s fees run roughly parallel to your lawyer’s and you can be held liable for those if you lose the case.

Hopefully you never have to resort to the final step of hiring a lawyer. In trying steps one, two, and three try to present your complaint as concisely and politely as possible. You have every right to be angry when you are taken advantage of, but try to let your anger subside before you speak to or write to someone about your problem. We all react negatively to someone who is profane, raises his voice, or is sarcastic. Your goal of communicating and resolving your complaint is best reached by communicating clearly, politely and concisely.