Despite rosy sales forecast, sharp dealers plan ahead

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My colleagues who were here five years ago tell me it was grim. Nothing like the prospect of GM and Chrysler dying to suck the air out of a learn-fest like the NADA convention.

So it struck me to read that the association's new chief economist, Steven Szakaly, is predicting three more years of rising U.S. sales - on top of the four we've seen since 2009.

Never mind that Mr. Szakaly used to work for the Federal Reserve. I had 113 years of data at my fingertips - literally - when I met with him Friday. I noted that he's talking the longest winning streak since 1909 to 1917.

Did Mr. Szakaly realize that?

I'll spare you his explanation of investment capital and debt recessions. In a nutshell, he said: Yes. "We have a lot of positives," and there's lots of recovery left. At least three more years - if government policymakers don't muck things up.

So, with all that smooth sailing ahead, why have dealers bothered to come to New Orleans? A Pennsylvania sales manager told me he has to master digital advertising. A business development manager from England said she's looking for management tips. And a longtime dealer who sold his last store last year had his eye on the controller's workshop - so he could pass ideas on to his old controller.

None of them said it, but it sure looks like some lessons of 2009 have stuck. There are things beyond control. And there are things that can be controlled. Sharp dealers are doing what they can to take charge.

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