NADA picks California dealer advocate Welch as new president
Peter Welch will start at NADA on Feb. 1, a week before the 16,000-member dealer group's annual conference in Orlando, Fla.
WASHINGTON -- The new president of the National Automobile Dealers Association will be Peter Welch, 59, who as head of California's dealer group led a legal fight against Chrysler Group's factory-owned dealership in Los Angeles.
NADA's board of directors unanimously approved the pick this afternoon during a meeting in Dallas, ending a five-month search, a top official told Automotive News.
Welch, who has represented dealer interests for much of his career, will take the post vacated in July by Phil Brady, who left after 11 years to take a position at the energy company Phillips 66.
Hiring the head of the California New Car Dealers Association, the largest state-level dealer group with more than 1,100 members, gives NADA a leader familiar with the business of selling cars as well as the legal and regulatory issues that dealers face.
NADA Chairman Bill Underriner, a Honda, Hyundai, Volvo and Buick dealer from Billings, Mont., praised Welch's work in California, a state known for its strict environmental and consumer protection rules.
During his tenure as president, CNCDA has pushed regulators to enforce state franchise laws that protect dealers, most visibly through the group's 2011 challenge to Chrysler's marquee dealership in the nation's largest car market.
Last year Welch's group helped convince legislators in Sacramento to exempt most new-car dealers from tougher lending laws — similar to what NADA achieved on a national scale when Congress passed Wall Street reforms in 2010.
"He has an impressive track record in California, where every day he faced some of the toughest regulatory and legislative issues in the industry," Underriner said in a statement today. "He's a car guy who comes highly recommended not just from people in California but also across the nation."
A Beltway outsider
Welch will start at NADA on Feb. 1, a week before the 16,000-member dealer group's annual conference in Orlando, Fla.
He is a Detroit native, and has led the California trade group since 2003, when it was still known as the California Motor Car Dealers Association. He previously headed the group's government affairs office for 13 years, and before that was a partner at the Los Angeles law firm Manning, Leaver, Bruder & Berberich, which provides legal counsel to dealers.
Welch has not hesitated to raise his voice on matters of national importance.
His group often has questioned whether consumers will want the cars automakers will need to build to comply with California's stricter electric vehicle and fuel economy rules. Those rules, put in place by the California Air Resources Board, have served as a model for nationwide standards put in place by the Obama administration.
Welch also has challenged automakers, notably Chrysler after that company opened the Los Angeles dealership known as Motor Village LA in January 2011.
Two months after the store opened as a test bed for retail ideas, Welch's group filed a complaint with the California Department of Motor Vehicles. The group claimed the dealership was harming the three franchised Chrysler dealerships within 10 miles, in violation of state law.
Welch told regulators that his group's challenge would be a deterrent to other automakers that would try to sell cars on the margins of franchise laws.
"We can't have rogue manufacturers not following the law and intentionally trying to circumvent it through sham devices to meet whatever the flavor-of-the-month new marketing strategy is," he said during a hearing in May 2011, as Automotive News reported at the time.
Chrysler sold the dealership in October 2011 and subsequently agreed to pay more than $900,000 in penalties and fees to settle the complaint.
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