WisBusiness: Zimbrick optimistic about car industry despite tough year
11/4/2009

A Madison-area car dealer with 16 brands is riding out the recession with cost-cutting strategies and strong customer service. 

But Tom Zimbrick bemoans what's happened to the small-town dealers who brought jobs and stability to Wisconsin small towns. 

"It's wrong," he told a WisBusiness.com-Madison Magazine luncheon at the Madison Club on Nov. 2.  "It makes no sense in Dodgeville ... Pardeeville." 

He said the Obama administration liked Toyota's limited distributor model. He suggested another foreign manufacturer might try to use the small-town dealer network but that in the short term a lot of fellow dealers and their employees will be out of jobs. 

But at Zimbrick job losses were avoided through cutting back and moving around personnel. He says none of the 900 employees was laid off. 

Such is not the case with Saturn, which GM created to break the car-building mold. But an effort by Roger Penske to save Saturn through a distributor model and contracting out the car building fell through in the 11th hour, said Zimbrick, who was a member of the national board. "We were at the altar," he mused. 

Zimbrick remains optimistic about the car industry even after a brutal year. He says the cash-for-clunkers program was good in its timing and results, even if it was clunky in its administration. It helped the entire economy, he said. 

But he said domestic automakers have some work to do. "They make good cars now," he said. "But they've got to win over a (lost) generation." 

-- By WisBusiness Staff


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