DETROIT (Aug. 10, 2010) — U.S. automobile dealers waged a good and noble fight recently in the halls of Congress against an impending regulatory nightmare.
Some in the federal government—including the White House, the Pentagon and Democratic leaders in the Senate—were determined to put all car dealers under the jurisdiction of the new Consumer Federal Financial Protection Bureau that was created by the recently passed bill regulating the financial industry's consumer products.
These officials tried to paint the entire body of car dealers with one brush and subject all dealerships to new regulatory restrictions that would have been a real challenge for the average dealer to comply with—not that that would have slowed down the zealots in Washington.
Unfortunately, just enough dealers in this country misuse the financial system to their own advantage—and at a cost to the consumer.
There are still a few rogue dealers who abuse the system. They get all the publicity and make it a challenge for the rest of the dealers.
Money is a big part of any new-car transaction, and there are many financial options from which the customer must choose. They have to decide whether to buy or lease and for how long and from whom. Consumers need to learn about finance and insurance products such as extended vehicle warranties and whether to include them in their purchase payments. And there always are local costs associated with the purchase.
It's a complicated process, and if some dealer wants to pull the wool over the eyes of an unsuspecting customer, it isn't difficult.
But there already are lots of consumer safeguards, and most are at the state or local level. Every state has a maze of regulations affecting the new-car dealer. The Federal Trade Commission and the Federal Reserve also have oversight authority. To add another federal bureaucracy to this labyrinth was unnecessary.
Some critics wanted to include new-car dealers in this federal financial bill because there are enough rotten apples in this business to taint the entire reputation of the automobile dealer. What a shame.
Facing a new level of federal regulation would have made it more difficult to do business, all because too many people have had bad experiences with those bad dealers.
That's where grass-roots lobbying with every member of Congress comes in handy.
Keith Crain, chairman of Crain Communications Inc., is editor-in-chief of Detroit-based Automotive News, where this piece appeared. It is a sister publication of Tire Business.