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The Big Picture: Always looking on bright side

You don’t need me to point out all the differences between the UK and America – either culturally or in the way the car retail business works.

But there are a couple of areas worth looking at, and they were ones that came to light during this month’s NADA convention in San Francisco.

NADA pulls in dealers from across the globe. Around 1,800 non-American dealers joined the 12,000 domestic companies at the four-day event, of which almost 250 came from the UK. They were all looking for that little nugget of insight that will give them an edge.

The biggest difference between the US and UK dealer psyche was brought home in the leader column by Automotive News publisher Keith Crain. Of his few days spent at NADA he wrote: “You can’t be a pessimist for long when you hang around a lot of car dealers. They are the most upbeat folks I know.”

With a few exceptions, that’s not something you could say about UK dealers. And that’s understandable given all the pressures they face from carmakers and legislators.

American dealers face similar pressures but remain optimistic. Take the Chrysler meeting at NADA. Chrysler dealers in the USA have more cause for concern than most with falling profits and market share but there were smiles a-plenty after they met senior executives. UK dealers would be more cynical.

The other striking differences between UK and US dealers are the level of business acumen, customer care and showroom standards. All are higher in the UK, although the gap on business skills is closing rapidly.

Showroom standards are particularly fascinating. Although all manufacturers have them, they become surprisingly lax when location is at stake. Several dealers in San Francisco fell well short of their franchise requirements, but manufacturers turn a blind eye because their options for city centre representation are limited.

The upshot is that city centre dealers – in San Francisco, at least – are turning a far greater profit because their overheads are much lower. UK dealers can only look on in envy.

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