It’s a whole new meaning of “Get outta Dodge.”
Jay Leno does his best Rodney Dangerfield impersonation. “The economy is bad,” as he faces Kevin Eubanks and receives the standard reply, “Still bad, huh?”
How bad is it? Chrysler, LLC has told Dodge to get out of Columbia. Dodge City Motors will be no longer be a Dodge or Chrysler dealership. It has lost its franchise. So what is Columbia doing about it?
Now, as full disclosure, I own a 2000 Dodge Stratus. With more than 115,000 miles on the odometer and 10 years of motoring, “Red Cloud” is one of the best cars I have owned. However, that has nothing to do with the possibility of losing 50 jobs, revenue for other small business in Columbia and a major source of tax revenue for the city.
Chrysler’s decision hit our three television news stations and two newspapers over the weekend. Then, nothing. Some rumblings about General Motors' move to eliminate a sizable number of its dealerships, which will most likely include some in mid-Missouri. That is about it.
Dodge City owner Larry Estes says he is staying in business. He is keeping Hyundai and is taking on a replacement for the Dodge Ram, the icon of the pick-em-up truck world. Introducing the Mahindra pickup diesel truck. Who?
The Mahindra Group’s (Mahindra and Mahindra) Automotive Sector is yet another foreign automobile and truck manufacturer seeing the American market as ripe for the picking as the Big 3 lay dying in the gutter. M&M (Oh, I can see the late-night comics having a field day with this one) is the fourth largest automobile manufacturer in India. The largest, Tata Motors, exports Land Rover and Jaguar to the U.S.
This is risky bet on the part of Mr. Estes and car dealers who are losing big names and looking toward India for lifesaving products. The Mahindra pickup claims the “green” label by using “state-of-the-art diesel technology” developed by Bosch and used by the great German automobile manufacturers Mercedes-Benz, BMW and Audi. However, the light pickup truck is not yet certified for use on American roads.
That’s right, my friend (in my best John Wayne impersonation). According to Autoblog.com, the M&M diesel has not yet passed the Department of Transportation safety or emissions certification tests. Don’t even think about driving one in California.
Mike Geylin, spokesperson for Global Vehicles, importers of the M&M diesel pickup, says that the company is on schedule for the truck’s certification and spending up to $50 million to meet the deadline. That Mahindra will also be offering an SUV later in the model year. That 330 dealerships have been established in the U.S. with more to come.
Let’s get back to Columbia, this town’s vision of small “ma-pa” businesses and how it can help the backbone of American free enterprise stay in business. What can it do for Dodge City and others?
Don Laird, president of the Columbia Chamber of Commerce, acknowledged in a recent conversation the tremendous impact an auto dealership has on the surrounding community. He also praised the foresight of Larry Estes in diversifying his dealership with Hyundai and, now, Mahindra. But what can the Chamber do when a company is trying to stay in business in Columbia?
“It is out of our hands,” he said.
In a word: Nothing.
Columbia’s responsibility? Toni Messina, communications director for the city of Columbia, said there is really nothing the city can do “for businesses facing challenges other than having REDI (Regional Economic Development Inc.) work through state programs.”
Bernie Andrews of REDI told me that his organization works with national and regional corporations, not “small retail” organizations such as Dodge City.
Déjà vu all over again.
So who is the voice for small business in Columbia? Who fights for the little guy when times are tough? Who is the “big brother” who protects the “little kids” from the corporate bully next door? Not the Chamber. Not the city. Not REDI.
It looks like the bullies win.
David Rosman is a business and political communications consultant, professional speaker and college instructor in communications, ethics, business and politics. Besides the Missourian, David is also a featured columnist for MissouriTribune.com and TRCB.com. He welcomes your comments at ProfDave1011@netscape.net.