For auto dealer Jack Fitzgerald, the past year has been spent trying to win back the General Motors and Chrysler franchises he lost as both automakers underwent restructuring bankruptcy. Although it’s still too soon to declare total victory, Fitzgerald is finally seeing the results of his efforts.
Last week, the 74-year-old co-leader of the Committee to Restore Dealer Rights which lobbied for legislation requiring GM and Chrysler to submit to third-party arbitration, won back his Chrysler-Jeep store in Florida. He has also settled with General Motors and will retain two of his dealerships previously scheduled for wind-down later this year. Arbitration hearings in Maryland, scheduled for this week, will determine the fate of four more of Fitzgerald’s Chrysler dealerships.
In the case of Fitzgerald’s Florida dealership, the arbitrator challenged Chrysler Group’s Genesis business plan. Fitzgerald, however, credits his loyal customers for that victory. He said, “Our customers won it for us,” and many of those customers testified on his behalf during the June 2 hearing. The arbitrator in the case also acknowledged the part those testimonies played in the decision to grant Fitzgerald’s reinstatement. In deciding in favor of Fitzgerald, the arbitrator said the closure of Countryside Chrysler-Jeep was not in the public interest.
Chrysler Group’s decision to reject Fitzgerald’s dealership would have reduced the number of Chrysler franchises in the Clearwater, Florida area to only two. The automaker contended that the closure of Fitzgerald’s dealership was in keeping with its Project Genesis strategy. That strategy calls for streamlining its dealer network and consolidating its remaining four brands in order to reduce costs.
As a Chrysler-Jeep dealership, Fitzgerald’s store does not comply with that strategy. There are two Genesis dealerships in the local market.
In more than a dozen Chrysler arbitration cases decided since April, the arbitrators have ruled against rejected dealers and upheld the Project Genesis business plan. Tallahassee, Florida attorney John Forehand represented Fitzgerald in his bid for reinstatement. Forehand said the arbitrator’s ruling “goes straight to the heart of Chrysler’s cases.”
Fitzgerald co-founded the Committee to Restore Dealer Rights along with fellow GM and Chrysler dealers Alan Spitzer and Tammy Darvish last summer.
Last fall, the trio, along with the National Auto Dealers Association succeeded in pressuring Congress to draft legislation requiring GM and Chrysler to submit to binding, third-party arbitration in their disputes with rejected dealers. In December, President Barack Obama signed the bill into law.
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