Whazzat? In these days of DaimlerChrysler, Renault-Nissan and Hyundai-Kia, there are constant rumblings about more auto industry mergers. One that raised at least one set of eyebrows (ours) came to us recently by way of an L.A. newscaster's uncorrected gaffe.
Reporting on results of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration's new car and truck rollover testing earlier this month, KCBS-TV Channel 2 news anchor Ann Martin informed Southern California viewers: "The Ford Ranger performed poorly on two key tests. Its maker, General Motors. . . ." Hmmm. Do Martin's news writers know something we don't?
Shot Across the Bow? Nissan's new chief operating officer, Carlos Ghosn, agrees with the rest of the universe that the company has an image problem in the United States. And he acknowledges that when the image gets fuzzy, corporate leadership is usually responsible.
But there comes a time when the ad agency hired to prepare and promulgate the message ought to step in, said Ghosn, the trouble-shooter installed by Renault of France after it acquired a controlling stake in the troubled Japanese auto maker. It's the agency's job to point out that instructions from the top aren't making sense anymore, Ghosn said in a recent tete-a-tete with journalists and analysts at Nissan North America headquarters in Gardena.
He was careful not to mention Nissan's longtime agency, TBWA/Chiat/Day, during his remarks but did say as he was leaving the meeting that he was heading upstairs for a long session on how to fix the auto maker's brand image. The Nissan repair plan is set to be unveiled in October.
And Where Is Margarita-ville? Lincoln-Mercury (motto: Just call us Lincoln) celebrated its first anniversary as a Southern California company with a parking lot party on July 19. Not only were folks at the Ford Motor division five days late (the official move-in date was July 14, 1998), but the music included Florida-Caribbean from a Jimmy Buffett album.
Ah, well, most of the Irvine-based Lincolnites were wearing aloha shirts. And division President Mark Hutchins said the tan he sported was earned in a truly California way: He had spent the previous weekend poring over a mountain of paperwork but did it in shirt sleeves on the patio of his Newport Beach-area home.
Michelin Doughnuts . . . Gas by Del Taco? There was some synergy there when L.A.-based Hot Rod magazine announced earlier this year that it will begin selling Hot Rod-brand hot sauce and salsa. But marketing types are never satisfied.
Now the magazine is launching Hot Rod soft drinks: a line of supercharged sodas with names like (honest!) Stroked & Bored Strawberry, Crashin' Root Beer and Nitrous Orange. Hot Rod swears the stuff tastes great, but it seems to be aiming at collectors rather than consumers: a 12-ounce bottle will cost $1.49 to $1.69.
We're not sure the names work well, either. Might we suggest Roddin' Root Beer and Screaming Strawberry as alternatives? And since the much-used acronym for horsepower-boosting nitrous oxide is NOX, how about NOXious Orange 'stead of Nitrous?
Who's in First? Keeping track of leading auto dealerships is getting to be as confusing as keeping track of the players in the famed Abbott and Costello baseball routine. Last year, with all the mergers and acquisitions, the official scorekeeper--Ward's Dealer Business magazine--omitted all the AutoNation-owned operations. This year, the Ward's list of the top 500 dealers includes AutoNation shops.
But in a cautionary note, Ward's says a number of big players--including Penske-owned dealerships such as Longo Toyota (long among the top 10) and the MacPherson Automotive Group franchises in Tustin--opted out of the voluntary rankings this years.
The reasons range from "apprehensions about releasing figures to less-than-stellar sales years," the magazine said. Anyway, from Ward's, the 10 biggest dealerships in Southern California, by total 1998 revenue (new- and used-vehicle sales, service, parts, paint and body, finance and insurance):
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Top 10 Southern California Dealers
Rank (1998) Vehicles So. Cal. U.S. Dealership Location sold (new) 1 (2) Galpin Ford North Hills 11,555 2 (10) Fletcher Jones Newport Beach 2,956 Motorcars(Mercedes-Benz) 3 (14) Norm Reeves Cerritos 7,503 Honda 4 (15) Don Kott Carson 5,722 Auto Center 5 (19) House of Buena Park 2,981 Imports(Mercedes-Benz) 6 (35) Drew Ford- La Mesa 5,753 Volkswagen-Hyundai-Isuzu 7 (40) Toyota of Orange Orange 5,097 8 (46) Toyota of Cerritos Cerritos 5,236 9 (65) Universal City Los Angeles 3,136 10 (83) Vista Ford Woodland Hills 3,781
Rank (1998) Revenue So. Cal. (millions) 1 $366.8 2 233.3 3 213.8 4 206.3 5 200.9 6 163.6 7 155.5 8 149.2 9 133.0 10 126.2
Source: Ward's Dealer Business magazine