Canada's dealer associations are right to protest the extending of tire manufacturers' national accounts status to individual consumers as part of a new ``auto club'' program for credit card owners. Turning ``Joe and Jane Consumer'' into ``national accounts''-so they become customers of the tire maker rather than the retailer-constitutes a serious breach of the dealer-supplier relationship and sets an ominous precedent for dealers everywhere in North America.
In fairness, it should be pointed out that this particular program, offered to owners of credit cards issued by The Bay, a large Canadian department store chain, doesn't appear to be a nefarious plot by tire makers to usurp the dealer's retail market.
It was not conceived by the tire manufacturers but by the owner of Canadian Vehicle Services, a Mississauga, Ontario, leasing firm that persuaded the department store chain and the Canadian operations of three tire companies-Michelin North America, Bridgestone/Firestone Inc. and Dunlop Tire Corp.-to participate.
Moreover, most independent dealers will have little trouble meeting-or even beating-the program's promised discounts of 30 percent off list price in the case of tires and 7 percent on automotive services-even if they elect to sell the customer on their own rather than resort to a national accounts transaction with all its drawbacks.
Nevertheless, this encroachment by tire manufacturers on the retail dealer's turf-whether intentional or not-threatens the continued viability of independent retailers and deserves the condemnation of Canadian and U.S. tire dealers alike.
If unopposed, such direct selling of consumers by manufacturers will write yet another chapter in the continuing deterioration of what once was a partnership between tire dealers and their suppliers.
Hopefully, the participating tire makers won't make the mistake of expanding this dangerous and unacceptable precedent to future programs-and the threat posed by this particular program will be as shortlived as its critics predict.