Manufacturers, he said, need to understand that selling cars is a complex business in which dealers are the experts. He called on them to stop employing consultants and instead communicate with their franchised networks.
“We work closer to the consumer than anybody. If you have any questions about the buying public, just talk to us. Dealers are the solution,” Starling said.
“Stop using CSI programmes to beat up dealers. CSI is a gimmick, and at best a marketing tool. It doesn't benefit dealers or consumers – and in fact CSI actually undermines dealership operations. But we aren't saying get rid of CSI, we're saying improve CSI.”
He believes the American market will be defined over the next few years by a growing respect between dealers, carmakers, government and the media. The national and state governments have started to recognise the importance of the automotive industry. Retailers sold 17m new and 40m used cars last year and are, in effect, driving the American economy.
However, Starling had critical words for the media who he accused of fixating too much on what's wrong with the industry and not enough on the positives. “When that happens we respond, assertively and promptly, and we set the record straight.”
And he had a note of caution for dealers: “Respect is a two-way street – if you want to get it, you have to give it.”