Why 'Back to the Future' resonates at NADA

Edward Lapham is executive editor of Automotive News.

ORLANDO -- It caught my eye immediately.

Parked at a booth in the NADA exhibition hall was a DeLorean time machine. It looked as if it had just blown in from the "Back to the Future" movie trilogy -- complete with blinking dashboard lights and a flux capacitor.

M5 Management Services Inc. and Automotive Warranty Network Inc. used the replica as a clever way to ask dealers if they're still managing their warranties like it was 1985.

Having covered the rise, fall, bankruptcy, and criminal trials stemming from John DeLorean's stainless steel sports car project, it gave me a sense of déjà vu from more than 30 years ago.

And coincidentally 1985, the benchmark year of the trilogy when the first movie was released, was only a year or so before I started coming to NADA conventions.

So seeing the DeLorean also was a flashback to NADA conventions gone by -- and the two great truths I learned from covering the event all these years:

• Every NADA convention is different.

• Every NADA convention is the same.

Issues confronting dealers and manufacturers may change. The equipment, products and services for sale in the exhibition hall may change. There may be more dealership groups, more female dealers and fewer dealerships over all.

But through good times and bad and from venues in Atlanta, Orlando, Dallas, New Orleans, Las Vegas and San Francisco, NADA conventions are like a family reunion for the retail side of the auto industry. Inevitably, NADA is the only place you ever run into some people, which is what makes these few days special.

Even without a time machine.