(1) A manufacturer or distributor may not require any new motor vehicle dealer in this state to do any of the following:
(a) Order or accept delivery of any new motor vehicle, part or accessory of the vehicle, equipment or any other commodity not required by law which was not voluntarily ordered by the new motor vehicle dealer. This section does not prevent the manufacturer or distributor from requiring that new motor vehicle dealers carry a reasonable inventory of models offered for sale by the manufacturer or distributor;
(b) Order or accept delivery of any new motor vehicle with special features, accessories or equipment not included in the list price of the new motor vehicle as publicly advertised by the manufacturer or distributor;
(c) Unreasonably participate monetarily in any advertising campaign or contest, or purchase any promotional materials, display devices, display decorations, brand signs and dealer identification, nondiagnostic computer equipment and displays or other materials at the expense of the new motor vehicle dealer;
(d) Enter into any agreement with the manufacturer or distributor or do any other act prejudicial to the new motor vehicle dealer by threatening to terminate a dealer agreement, limit inventory, invoke sales and service warranty or other types of audits or any contractual agreement or understanding existing between the dealer and the manufacturer or distributor. Notice in good faith to any dealer of the dealer's violation of any terms or provisions of the dealer agreement is not a violation of this article;
(e) Change the capital structure or financial requirements of the new motor vehicle dealership without reasonable business justification in light of the dealer's market, historical performance and compliance with prior capital structure or financial requirements and business necessity, or the means by or through which the dealer finances the operation of the dealership if the dealership at all times meets any reasonable capital standards determined by the manufacturer in accordance with uniformly applied criteria. The burden of proof is on the manufacturer to prove business justification by a preponderance of the evidence;
(f) Refrain from participation in the management of, investment in or the acquisition of any other line of new motor vehicle or related products, provided that the dealer maintains a reasonable line of credit for each make or line of vehicle, remains in compliance with reasonable facilities requirements and makes no change in the principal management of the dealer. Notwithstanding the terms of any franchise agreement, a manufacturer or distributor may not enforce any requirements, including facility requirements, that a new motor vehicle dealer establish or maintain exclusive facilities, personnel or display space, when the requirements are unreasonable considering current economic conditions and are not otherwise justified by reasonable business considerations. The burden of proving that current economic conditions or reasonable business considerations justify exclusive facilities is on the manufacturer or distributor and must be proven by a preponderance of the evidence;
(g) Change the location of the new motor vehicle dealership or make any substantial alterations to the dealership premises, where to do so would be unreasonable. The burden is on the manufacturer or distributor to prove reasonableness by a preponderance of the evidence;
(h) Prospectively assent to a waiver of trial by jury release, arbitration, assignment, novation, waiver or estoppel which would relieve any person from liability imposed by this article or require any controversy between a new motor vehicle dealer and a manufacturer or distributor to be referred to a person other than the duly constituted courts of this state or the United States District Courts of the Northern or Southern Districts of West Virginia. Nothing in this prevents a motor vehicle dealer, after a civil action is filed, from entering into any agreement of settlement, arbitration, assignment or waiver of a trial by jury; (i) To coerce or require any dealer, whether by agreement, program, incentive provision or otherwise, to construct improvements to its facilities or to install new signs or other franchisor image elements that replace or substantially alter those improvements, signs or franchisor image elements completed within the proceeding ten years that were required and approved by the manufacturer, factory branch, distributor or distributor branch or one of its affiliates. If a manufacturer, factory branch, distributor or distributor branch offers incentives or other payments to a consumer or dealer paid on individual vehicle sales under a program offered after the effective date of this subdivision and available to more than one dealer in the state that are premised, wholly or in part, on dealer facility improvements or installation of franchiser image elements required by and approved by the manufacturer, factory branch, distributor or distributor branch and completed within ten years preceding the program shall be deemed to be in compliance with the program requirements pertaining to construction of facilities or installation of signs or other franchisor image elements that would replace or substantially alter those previously constructed or installed with that ten year period. This subdivision shall not apply to a program that is in effect with more than one dealer in the state on the effective date of this subsection, nor to any renewal of such program, nor to a modification that is not a substantial modification of a material term or condition of such program;
(j) To condition the award, sale, transfer, relocation or renewal of a franchise or dealer agreement or to condition sales, service, parts or finance incentives upon site control or an agreement to renovate or make substantial improvements to a facility: Provided, That voluntary and noncoerced acceptance of such conditions by the dealer in writing, including, but not limited to, a written agreement for which the dealer has accepted separate and valuable consideration, does not constitute a violation;
(k) To enter into a contractual requirement imposed by the manufacturer, distributor or a captive finance source as follows:
(i) In this section, "captive finance source" means any financial source that provides automotive-related loans or purchases retail installment contracts or lease contracts for motor vehicles in this state and is, directly or indirectly, owned, operated or controlled by such manufacturer, factory branch, distributor or distributor branch.
(ii) It shall be unlawful for any manufacturer, factory branch, captive finance source, distributor or distributor branch, or any field representative, officer, agent or any representative of them, notwithstanding the terms, provisions or conditions of any agreement or franchise, to require any of its franchised dealers located in this state to agree to any terms, conditions or requirements in subdivisions (a) through (j), inclusive, of this subsection in order for any such dealer to sell to any captive finance source any retail installment contract, loan or lease of any motor vehicles purchased or leased by any of the dealer's customers, or to be able to participate in, or otherwise, directly or indirectly, obtain the benefits of the consumer transaction incentive program payable to the consumer or the dealer and offered by or through any captive finance source as to that incentive program.
(iii) The applicability of this section is not affected by a choice of law clause in any agreement, waiver, novation or any other written instrument.
(iv) It shall be unlawful for a manufacturer or distributor to use any subsidiary corporation, affiliated corporation or any other controlled corporation, partnership, association or person to accomplish what would otherwise be illegal conduct under this section on the part of the manufacturer or distributor.
(2) A manufacturer or distributor may not do any of the following:
(a) (i) Fail to deliver new motor vehicles or new motor vehicle parts or accessories within a reasonable time and in reasonable quantities relative to the new motor vehicle dealer's market area and facilities, unless the failure is caused by acts or occurrences beyond the control of the manufacturer or distributor, or unless the failure results from an order by the new motor vehicle dealer in excess of quantities reasonably and fairly allocated by the manufacturer or distributor. No manufacturer or distributor may penalize a new motor vehicle dealer for an alleged failure to meet sales quotas where the alleged failure is due to actions of the manufacturer or distributor;
(ii) Refuse to offer to its same line-make new motor vehicle dealers all models manufactured for that line-make, including, but not limited to, any model that contains a separate label or badge indicating a upgraded version of the same model. This provision does not apply to motorhome, travel trailer or fold-down camping trailer manufacturers; or
(iii) Require as a prerequisite to receiving a model or series of vehicles that a new motor vehicle dealer pay an extra unreasonable acquisition fee or surcharge, or purchase unreasonable advertising displays or other materials, or conduct unreasonable remodeling, renovation or reconditioning of the dealer's facilities, or any other type of unreasonable upgrade requirement;
(b) Refuse to disclose to a new motor vehicle dealer the method and manner of distribution of new motor vehicles by the manufacturer or distributor, including any numerical calculation or formula used, nationally or within the dealer's market, to make the allocations within thirty days of a request. Any information or documentation provided by the manufacturer may be subject to a reasonable confidentiality agreement;
(c) Refuse to disclose to a new motor vehicle dealer the total number of new motor vehicles of a given model, which the manufacturer or distributor has sold during the current model year within the dealer's marketing district, zone or region, whichever geographical area is the smallest within thirty days of a request;
(d) Increase prices of new motor vehicles which the new motor vehicle dealer had ordered and then eventually delivered to the same retail consumer for whom the vehicle was ordered, if the order was made prior to the dealer's receipt of the written official price increase notification. A sales contract signed by a private retail consumer and binding on the dealer which has been submitted to the vehicle manufacturer is evidence of each order. In the event of manufacturer or distributor price reductions or cash rebates, the amount of any reduction or rebate received by a dealer shall be passed on to the private retail consumer by the dealer. Any price reduction in excess of $5 shall apply to all vehicles in the dealer's inventory which were subject to the price reduction. A price difference applicable to new model or series motor vehicles at the time of the introduction of the new models or the series is not a price increase or price decrease. This subdivision does not apply to price changes caused by the following:
(i) The addition to a motor vehicle of required or optional equipment pursuant to state or federal law;
(ii) In the case of foreign-made vehicles or components, revaluation of the United States dollar; or
(iii) Any increase in transportation charges due to an increase in rates charged by a common carrier and transporters;
(e) Offer any refunds or other types of inducements to any dealer for the purchase of new motor vehicles of a certain line-make to be sold to this state or any political subdivision of this state without making the same offer available upon request to all other new motor vehicle dealers of the same line-make;
(f) Release to an outside party, except under subpoena or in an administrative or judicial proceeding to which the new motor vehicle dealer or the manufacturer or distributor are parties, any business, financial or personal information which has been provided by the dealer to the manufacturer or distributor, unless the new motor vehicle dealer gives his or her written consent;
(g) Deny a new motor vehicle dealer the right to associate with another new motor vehicle dealer for any lawful purpose;
(h) Establish a new motor vehicle dealership. A manufacturer or distributor is not considered to have established a new motor vehicle dealership if the manufacturer or distributor is:
(A) Operating a preexisting dealership temporarily for a reasonable period.
(B) Operating a preexisting dealership which is for sale at a reasonable price.
(C) Operating a dealership with another person who has made a significant investment in the dealership and who will acquire full ownership of the dealership under reasonable terms and conditions;
(i) A manufacturer may not, except as provided by this section, directly or indirectly:
(A) Own an interest in a dealer or dealership: Provided, That a manufacturer may own stock in a publicly held company solely for investment purposes;
(B) Operate a dealership, including, but not limited to, displaying a motor vehicle intended to facilitate the sale of new motor vehicles other than through franchised dealers, unless the display is part of an automobile trade show that more than two automobile manufacturers participate in; or
(C) Act in the capacity of a new motor vehicle dealer;
(j) A manufacturer or distributor may own an interest in a franchised dealer, or otherwise control a dealership, for a period not to exceed twelve months from the date the manufacturer or distributor acquires the dealership if:
(i) The person from whom the manufacturer or distributor acquired the dealership was a franchised dealer; and
(ii) The dealership is for sale by the manufacturer or distributor at a reasonable price and on reasonable terms and conditions;
(k) The twelve-month period may be extended for an additional twelve months. Notice of any such extension of the original twelve-month period must be given to any dealer of the same line- make whose dealership is located in the same county, or within twenty air miles of, the dealership owned or controlled by the manufacturer or distributor prior to the expiration of the original twelve-month period. Any dealer receiving the notice may protest the proposed extension within thirty days of receiving notice by bringing a declaratory judgment action in the circuit court for the county in which the new motor vehicle dealer is located to determine whether good cause exists for the extension;
(l) For the purpose of broadening the diversity of its dealer body and enhancing opportunities for qualified persons who are part of a group who have historically been under represented in its dealer body, or other qualified persons who lack the resources to purchase a dealership outright, but for no other purpose, a manufacturer or distributor may temporarily own an interest in a dealership if the manufacturer's or distributor's participation in the dealership is in a bona fide relationship with a franchised dealer who:
(i) Has made a significant investment in the dealership, subject to loss;
(ii) Has an ownership interest in the dealership; and
(iii) Operates the dealership under a plan to acquire full ownership of the dealership within a reasonable time and under reasonable terms and conditions;
(m) Unreasonably withhold consent to the sale, transfer or exchange of the dealership to a qualified buyer capable of being licensed as a new motor vehicle dealer in this state;
(n) Fail to respond in writing to a request for consent to a sale, transfer or exchange of a dealership within sixty days after receipt of a written application from the new motor vehicle dealer on the forms generally utilized by the manufacturer or distributor for such purpose and containing the information required therein. Failure to respond to the request within the sixty days is consent;
(o) Unfairly prevent a new motor vehicle dealer from receiving reasonable compensation for the value of the new motor vehicle dealership;
(p) Audit any motor vehicle dealer in this state for warranty parts or warranty service compensation, service compensation, service or sales incentives, manufacturer rebates or other forms of sales incentive compensation more than twelve months after the claim for payment or reimbursement has been made by the automobile dealer. No chargeback may be made until the dealer has had notice and an opportunity to support the claim in question within thirty days of receiving notice of the chargeback. No otherwise valid reimbursements claims may be denied once properly submitted in accordance with the manufacturer's submission guidelines due to clerical error or omission. This subsection does not apply where a claim is fraudulent. In addition, the manufacturer or distributor is responsible for reimbursing the audited dealer for all copying, postage and administrative costs incurred by the dealer during the audit. Any charges to a dealer as a result of the audit must be separately billed to the dealer;
(q) Unreasonably restrict a dealer's ownership of a dealership through noncompetition covenants, site control, sublease, collateral pledge of lease, right of first refusal, option to purchase, or otherwise. A right of first refusal is created when:
(i) A manufacturer has a contractual right of first refusal to acquire the new motor vehicle dealer's assets where the dealer owner receives consideration, terms and conditions that are either the same as or better than those they have already contracted to receive under the proposed change of more than fifty percent of the dealer's ownership.
(ii) The proposed change of the dealership's ownership or the transfer of the new vehicle dealer's assets does not involve the transfer of assets or the transfer or issuance of stock by the dealer or one of the dealer's owners to one of the following:
(A) A designated family member of one or more of the dealer owners;
(B) A manager employed by the dealer in the dealership during the previous five years and who is otherwise qualified as a dealer operator;
(C) A partnership or corporation controlled by a designated family member of one of the dealers;
(D) A trust established or to be established:
(i) For the purpose of allowing the new vehicle dealer to continue to qualify as such under the manufacturer's or distributor's standards; or
(ii) To provide for the succession of the franchise agreement to designated family members or qualified management in the event of death or incapacity of the dealer or its principle owner or owners.
(iii) Upon exercising the right of first refusal by a manufacturer, it eliminates any requirement under its dealer agreement or other applicable provision of this statute that the manufacturer evaluate, process or respond to the underlying proposed transfer by approving or rejecting the proposal, is not subject to challenge as a rejection or denial of the proposed transfer by any party.
(iv) Except as otherwise provided in this subsection, the manufacturer or distributor agrees to pay the reasonable expenses, including reasonable out-of-pocket professional fees which shall include, but not be limited to, accounting, legal or appraisal services fees that are incurred by the proposed owner or transferee before the manufacturer's or distributor's exercise of its right of first refusal. Payment of the expenses and fees for professional services are not required if the dealer fails to submit an accounting of those expenses and fees within twenty days of the dealer's receipt of the manufacturer's or distributor's written request for such an accounting. Such a written account of fees and expenses may be requested by a manufacturer or distributor before exercising its right of first refusal;
(r) Except for experimental low-volume not-for-retail sale vehicles, cause warranty and recall repair work to be performed by any entity other than a new motor vehicle dealer;
(s) Make any material or unreasonable change in any franchise agreement, including, but not limited to, the dealer's area of responsibility without giving the new motor vehicle dealer written notice by certified mail of the change at least sixty days prior to the effective date of the change, and shall include an explanation of the basis for the alteration. Upon written request from the dealer, this explanation shall include, but is not limited to, a reasonable and commercially acceptable copy of all information, data, evaluations, and methodology relied on or based its decision on, to propose the change to the dealer's area of responsibility. Any information or documentation provided by the manufacturer or distributor may be produced subject to a reasonable confidentiality agreement. At any time prior to the effective date of an alteration of a new motor vehicle dealer's area of responsibility and after the completion of any internal appeal process pursuant to the manufacturer's or distributor's policy manual, the motor vehicle dealer may petition the court to enjoin or prohibit the alteration within thirty days of receipt of the manufacturer's internal appeal process decision. The court shall enjoin or prohibit the alteration of a motor vehicle dealer's area of responsibility unless the franchisor shows, by a preponderance of the evidence, that the alteration is reasonable and justifiable in light of market conditions. If a motor vehicle dealer petitions the court, no alteration to a motor vehicle dealer's area of responsibility shall become effective until a final determination by the court. If a new motor vehicle dealer's area of responsibility is altered, the manufacturer shall allow twenty-four months for the motor vehicle dealer to become sales effective prior to taking any action claiming a breach or nonperformance of the motor vehicle dealer's sales performance responsibilities;
(t) Fail to reimburse a new motor vehicle dealer, at the dealer's regular rate, or the full and actual cost of providing a loaner vehicle to any customer who is having a vehicle serviced at the dealership if the provision of the loaner vehicle is required by the manufacturer;
(u) Compel a new motor vehicle dealer through its finance subsidiaries to agree to unreasonable operating requirements or to directly or indirectly terminate a franchise through the actions of a finance subsidiary of the franchisor. This subsection does not limit the right of a finance subsidiary to engage in business practices in accordance with the usage of trade in retail or wholesale vehicle financing;
(v) Discriminate directly or indirectly between dealers on vehicles of like grade or quantity where the effect of the discrimination would substantially lessen competition;
(w) Use or employ any performance standard that is not fair and reasonable and based upon accurate and verifiable data made available to the dealer;
(x) To require or coerce any new motor vehicle dealer to sell, offer to sell or sell exclusively extended service contract, maintenance plan or similar product, including gap or other products, offered, endorsed or sponsored by the manufacturer or distributor by the following means:
(i) By an act of statement that the manufacturer or distributor will adversely impact the dealer, whether it is express or implied;
(ii) By a contract made to the dealer on the condition that the dealer shall sell, offer to sell or sell exclusively an extended service contract, extended maintenance plan or similar product offered, endorsed or sponsored by the manufacturer or distributor;
(iii) By measuring the dealer's performance under the franchise agreement based on the sale of extended service contracts, extended maintenance plans or similar products offered, endorsed or sponsored by the manufacturer or distributor;
(iv) By requiring the dealer to actively promote the sale of extended service contracts, extended maintenance plans or similar products offered, endorsed or sponsored by the manufacturer or distributor;
(v) Nothing in this paragraph prohibits a manufacturer or distributor from providing incentive programs to a new vehicle dealer who makes the voluntary decision to offer to sell, sell or sell exclusively an extended service contract, extended maintenance plan or similar product offered, endorsed or sponsored by the manufacturer or distributor;
(y) Require a dealer to purchase goods or services from a vendor selected, identified or designated by a manufacturer, factory branch, distributor, distributor branch or one of its affiliates by agreement, program, incentive provision or otherwise without making available to the dealer the option to obtain the goods or services of substantially similar quality and overall design from a vendor chosen by the dealer and approved by the manufacturer, factory branch, distributor or distributor branch: Provided, That such approval may not be unreasonably withheld: Provided, however, That the dealer's option to select a vendor is not available if the manufacturer or distributor provides substantial reimbursement for the goods or services offered. Substantial reimbursement is equal to the difference in price of the goods and services from manufacturer's proposed vendor and the motor vehicle dealer's selected vendor: Provided further, That the goods are not subject to the manufacturer or distributor's intellectual property or trademark rights, or trade dress usage guidelines.
(3) A manufacturer or distributor, either directly or through any subsidiary, may not terminate, cancel, fail to renew or discontinue any lease of the new motor vehicle dealer's established place of business except for a material breach of the lease.
(4) Except as may otherwise be provided in this article, no manufacturer or franchisor may sell, directly or indirectly, any new motor vehicle to a consumer in this state, except through a new motor vehicle dealer holding a franchise for the line-make covering such new motor vehicle. This subsection does not apply to manufacturer or franchisor sales of new motor vehicles to charitable organizations, qualified vendors or employees of the manufacturer or franchisor.
(5) Except when prevented by an act of God, labor strike, transportation disruption outside the control of the manufacturer or time of war, a manufacturer or distributor may not refuse or fail to deliver, in reasonable quantities and within a reasonable time, to a dealer having a franchise agreement for the retail sale of any motor vehicle sold or distributed by the manufacturer, any new motor vehicle or parts or accessories to new motor vehicles as are covered by the franchise if the vehicles, parts and accessories are publicly advertised as being available for delivery or are actually being delivered.
Note: WV Code updated with legislation passed through the 2015 Regular Session
The WV Code Online is an unofficial copy of the annotated WV Code, provided as a convenience. It has NOT been edited for publication, and is not in any way official or authoritative.