It has been about a quarter century since novice car dealer Barbara Vidmar supervised the unloading of the first, tiny Hondas at her family's dealership in Pueblo, Colo.
'We had a hundred of them, a sea of yellow and orange,' she recalls. 'You don't know at that point whether you've made a mistake.'
Many sales and some years later, she is vice president of Vidmar Motor Co. and about to become chairman of the American International Auto-mobile Dealers Association.
She talked with Staff Reporter Harry Stoffer about some issues facing the association, her business and the industry in the year ahead.
In the wake of the chaos in Seattle, is trade likely to become even more of an issue for AIADA?
Absolutely. (A recent poll) showed that out of 1,000 Americans, 66 percent of them think that we shouldn't have free trade, and that was taken before Seattle. That disturbs me. I certainly think it's going to be a year in which we need to get our message out and not just to the choir, not just to our dealers. We need to really be out there. I personally have 95 families (of my employees) that depend on free trade in my own little community. And I definitely think that Americans are better served, especially in the automobile business. (Look) what has happened in safety and reliability by having increased competition. It's a win-win situation for everybody.
How much hope do you have for the items on AIADA's legislative agenda, given the gridlock that occurs in divided government, especially in an election year?
If I didn't believe we could make a difference, I wouldn't be spending the time on it. (Continuing the phase-out of the luxury tax is essential.) In my business we have minivans and Jeeps and Auroras that fit into that (luxury) category. I don't consider those luxury cars. I mean, a minivan is a luxury but a fur or a diamond or a yacht or an airplane is not? To target our industry - we are very visible - it's something that will probably continue to happen. The estate taxes - you know we are in a business where I can't sell off my parts department, or my son or daughter can't sell off the parts department (to pay taxes). It's an asset-rich, cash-poor business, historically, and in my case it certainly is. My father-in-law was a dealer - we have been a dealer in Pueblo, Colo., since 1945. Our only saving grace was that there wasn't an early death - he lived long enough to get a lot of things passed on.