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General motors corp. managers sure know how to turn a party sour. First, greet a delegation of dealers unhappy about new local/regional advertising arrangements with proposals and promises that turn frowns to cautious smiles. Then hit them with the news that GM itself intends to jump into auto retailing -- big time -- and buy up as much as 10% of its dealerships in the next 10 years. Talk about bad PR.

These are rocky times for a lot of successful long-running business marriages as marketers try to gain more control over their distribution channels by squeezing the independent middleman. Today, it's GM's independent dealers who are vowing to fight change. A few months back, it was the independent station affiliates of some of the big TV networks boiling over about their network partners' demands that the old relationship be rewritten.

GM dealers can cut the most favorable terms but they can't turn back the winds sweeping their businesses. When AutoNation began creating a new car dealership empire not beholden to any one automaker, a reaction was inevitable. Now that change is the order of the day, the communications minds at GM should be heading off another bitter and fruitless war rather than starting a new one. That's no way to work toward a new selling structure both sides eventually will have to

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