Mr. Thomas, who left Nissan Motor Corp. USA as president-CEO under pressure on Oct. 3, started his new job at the beginning of this month, and acknowledges the differences in the marketing at the two companies.
CHEERING ON 'MR. K'
The ex-Nissan chief was the champion of that carmaker's "Enjoy the ride" branding campaign with the smiling Mr. K.
"Nissan's solution doesn't apply to Republic," Mr. Thomas said. "At Nissan, we wanted to have a brand connector," like the Energizer bunny developed for Energizer batteries by agency TBWA Chiat/Day, Venice, Calif., also Nissan's shop.
But his new job is to "orchestrate some dialogue on the strategic direction of the company and its various components -- how they fit together and alternatives down the road," he said.
Mr. Thomas said it's really too early to say whether Republic's advertising, now done through a variety of agencies, would change.
Nissan and Republic are radically different. Nissan is a traditional carmaker and marketer; Republic is a conglomerate of new-car dealerships, the AutoNation USA used-car chain, financing units, rental car brands, waste collection and disposal operations.
Republic entered the car business by acquiring two used-car superstores in 1996, then opened the AutoNation chain. It started buying new-car dealerships early this year and rapidly has become the nation's largest auto retailer.
Mr. Thomas predicted consumers would help Republic decide if and how it should market its brands and whether there should be an umbrella brand.
"You want something you can sell and communicate to the consumer, so it depends entirely on the consumer part of the equation. You have to have branding and business processes consistent with what the consumer adopts and accepts," he said.
He said his transition from Nissan to Republic will be "pretty easy" because he's been studying the auto industry's gyrations since Republic and similar companies started to shake things up at retail.
In January, Mr. Thomas' speech to the Automotive News World Congress focused on an "uninvited visitor" to the auto industry. Although Mr. Huizenga wasn't mentioned by name, it was clear Mr. Thomas was talking about how the former Blockbuster Video entrepreneur was transforming the car industry.
"It is ironic a year later, here I am. But I've always wanted to be at the leading edge of change," he said.
Mr. Thomas' predecessor at Nissan, Tom Mignanelli, also resigned under pressure. He had been the first U.S. executive to be president-CEO at a marketing arm of a Japanese car company.
Mr. Thomas succeeded Mr. Mignanelli in April 1993. Both men had earlier worked at Ford Motor Co. Mr. Thomas, now 52, joined Nissan in 1985 as director-import and distribution export. He worked his way up the ladder before landing in the