Major automakers don’t sell cars to American consumers; they sell to dealers. And the biggest U.S. dealership chain by a wide margin is Fort Lauderdale, Florida-based AutoNation, which sold over 440,000 new and used vehicles last year.

So when AutoNation CEO Mike Jackson talks, auto executives listen — or so you would think.

In an interview with Reuters2ndautonationmikejacksonsep20082, Jackson said Detroit automakers had largely ignored his warnings over the past decade that the U.S. industry was headed for a crisis.

“I think I was usually able to reach an intellectual agreement on where the industry was headed. Where we disagreed was how much time we had to get there. On that, even I was wrong. Time was up,” Jackson said.
 
Jackson thinks GM and Chrysler can be fixed. But he also thinks Washington should let either or both fail if their current turnaround effort backed by $60 billion in taxpayer funds falters.
 
Here are excerpts from the interview and Jackson’s view of where GM, Chrysler, Ford and their rivals stand now in the marketplace:

Q: Are GM and Chrysler capable of change?

A:I think they had a near-death experience. When you really get down to the point where we either get this done or we won’t exist anymore, then it happens. …My sense is that absolutely Sergio (Marchionne) is providing leadership at Chrysler and (Fritz) Henderson at GM. It’s under way, and it’s going to happen.
Q: You’re looking to buy Ford and GM dealerships. Why is that?