William Lovejoy retired from General Motors Corp. two years ago but the former vice president of sales and marketing is still remembered at corporate headquarters as the guy who fixed the auto maker's banged-up relationship with its dealers.

“Our dealer relations have come a long, long way in the last few years,” says Gary Cowger, GM's president of North American operations. “Bill Lovejoy did a great job there.”

Lovejoy, who is now on the board of directors for United Auto Group, the nation's second-largest dealership chain, was named GM's fix-it man in 2000 after the auto maker acknowledged it made a big mistake with a plan to buy and run up to 800 dealerships, a proposal that infuriated GM dealers. They saw it as violating territory rights.

With Lovejoy as the point man, a contrite GM methodically went about repairing the damage, promising miffed dealers that the auto maker would keep out of the retail end of the business. The damage control worked.

“I just had a meeting with some California dealers and they had nothing but good things to say,” says Cowger. “I spend a lot of time with dealers. I ask them what we can do better. The conversations are good. If they have problems, they tell me.”

These days dealers' complaints center, not on distrust of the auto maker as a potential retail competitor, but on getting more hot products — hardly a novel dealer gripe.

Cowger says that, in retrospect, GM should not have tried to get GTOs to every Pontiac dealership because regional demands vary for the all-new vehicle with the revived nameplate.

“It was hot in Southern states and in California, but not so much in Northern states where rear-wheel drive isn't as popular,” he says.