Car sales on the Internet and the sweeping changes at General Motors are among topics sure to be discussed at the 1999 National Automobile Dealers Association convention, from Saturday, Feb. 6, to Tuesday, Feb. 9, in San Francisco.
Dealers are enthusiastic about the convention, and attendance will be strong, said Mike Taylor, this year's chairman of the convention organizing committee.
Taylor, a Chevrolet and Oldsmobile dealer in Batesburg, S.C., owns and operates Twin City Motors Co. Inc., a dealership that has been in his family since 1910.
Taylor talked to Staff Reporter Michael Wood-yard about what dealers can expect at the convention. Here are edited excerpts.
How big is this year's convention?
It looks to be one of the largest, if not the largest, ever in San Francisco.
Basically, everything is sold out; the 230,000 square feet of exhibition space is sold out (with more than 400 exhibitors), and we have somewhere in the neighborhood of 70 first-time companies exhibiting.
We have 37 work-shops and about 108 sessions planned. And the grand finale dinner on Tuesday evening is sold, so everything is just going well.
We set an aggressive goal of 16,000 paid registrants, and I feel we will meet that goal with our over-the-counter registrations. We expect around 25,000 people to be there.
Is there an umbrella theme for the convention?
I think you would entitle it 'NADA: Voice of the Dealer.' I believe that the dealers look to NADA - I know I do - for help in their daily operations. They look to NADA for representation in legislation and to represent them to the manufacturers.
General Motors, for the first time, is having just one make meeting for all GM-model dealers. How do you think that is going to go?
Well, that's going to be interesting. We are there to represent the dealers and also to help the dealers and the manufacturers get together. That's what General Motors wanted to do, and we accommodated them.
Things are changing at GM. They've reorganized North American Operations. Now I've got one rep for both Chevrolet and Oldsmobile, so I think that's the mentality they're going with across the board.
General Motors has a lot of things going on right now, so there will be a lot of emotions from different divisions there. It's going to be an interesting meeting.
What about the Internet? How much attention will be paid to it during the convention?
Well, the thing is, as a dealer, how do you use it? You're looking at Web sites to get your name out there. General Motors has BuyPower, where they refer people to your dealership off the Internet.
There are a lot of different aspects of the Internet. Most dealers, including myself, are not as informed as they should be about the Internet. We're just entering a new arena, and we need to be as informed as we can be about it. I'm sure the seminars will go into all of those things.
Although the number of dealers in the United States has been dropping for years, attendance at NADA conventions is consistently strong. Who is coming to the conventions?
Dealers understand the need for their employees to be trained, to know the latest technology. So they look to NADA, and especially the convention, as an extremely good source. To go there and have three days of super workshops, to look at the latest technology right before them on the exposition floor, it's just a great opportunity.
I may be wrong in saying that many years ago it was looked upon as an opportunity for dealers to get together and talk among themselves. It was through the receptions and such things that they enjoyed the convention.
Now they look to the exposition space, they look to the workshops. And that's the reason attendance keeps climbing. The dealers want their people educated.
How do you balance your own attention between the owners of small or single-point dealerships and owners of the larger, multipoint dealerships?
The way you'll see a difference in San Francisco between smaller and larger dealers is in the way some of the workshops are structured. Some workshops will be applicable to dealers who have more than 300 new-car sales a year. And that's noted in the program. But everything else basically pertains to everybody.
I know in my heart that (as chairman of the NADA convention organizing committee) I represent everybody. I represent the large dealers, and I represent the small dealers.
I'm a small dealer, but I can't look at things that would be better for me; I have to look at the overall picture and represent all the dealers the same way.