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The big picture: Attitudes vary but Lexus is top

Lexus tops the polls again. Maintaining its stranglehold over both the Sewells and RMI dealer attitude surveys, the premium carmaker has moved clear of the pack by recording a 9.7 out of 10 rating in the RMI survey, ahead of second place BMW on 8.6, down from 9.2 six months earlier.

AM’s carmaker of the year puts its success down to close relationships with dealers that see it act on their suggestions when appropriate. But there’s more to it than that. Lexus does have quite strong control over its dealers, but it’s one that dealers believe is fair for one crucial reason: Lexus is a franchise that allows them to make money.

As the newest brand on the block, Toyota’s premium brand started with a clean sheet. It recognized that without strength of brand, the only way it could get on shopping lists was through word of mouth, and that meant focusing on detail and getting the customer service spot on.

Carmakers that could learn a lesson include Chevrolet, which dropped from 5.8 to 4.4 overall. The change of name from Daewoo is having a positive impact on sales, although some of this is fleet thanks to the GM parent’s cross brand policy, but dealers feel the showroom demands are unfair and that senior managers are not listening to them. And they do not foresee any improvements in that relationship.

Citroën, Fiat and Daihatsu continue to linger at the foot of the table, but each recorded an improved score. Citroën and Fiat have new managing directors, which could explain why dealers have a more positive view of the future.

Overall, dealers are concerned about profit opportunities. Across networks, as many as a third are in the red. The situation is worst in the south east, with few making money in the London area.

Carmakers need to better support their city-based retailers. Until they do, dealers will struggle to provide the staff and facilities necessary for good customer service. And RMI scores will falter.

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