Harold Wells launched his term as chairman of the National Automobile Dealers Association with a call for unity.
'If we remain united and continue to speak with one strong voice,' Wells said, 'entrepreneurship will continue to be the major force in shaping and protecting this great franchise system in the years ahead.'
Wells highlighted two key issues: the rise of factory-owned dealerships and Internet companies trying to retail vehicles directly to consumers. The growing threat of factory stores had riled dealers over the past year and forced NADA to shift its position on the issue, from neutrality to strong opposition.
Wells said NADA pressure had prompted General Motors to drop plans to own stores. But Ford Motor Co.'s dealership consolidations remain intact, although the company has scaled back expansion plans for its auto collections.
'We will not sit back and wait for these factory stores to fail, as they always have and surely will again. We must convince our manufacturers that franchised, independently owned and operated dealerships best serve the manufacturer and consumer,' Wells said. He owns Wells Chevrolet-Buick-Pontiac-Oldsmobile-GMC Inc. and Wells Chrysler-Dodge-Jeep Inc. in Whiteville, N.C.
NADA's first priority will be to continue to improve factory relations, and Wells said the association wants results.
'Despite continuing record sales and profits, many dealers are very dissatisfied with the degree to which manufacturers consider dealer input when making decisions,' he said. 'We need for them to recognize that we, the dealers, are their customers.'
When it comes to online sales, Wells emphasized NADA's commitment to teaching dealers how to make the best of the Internet as a sales tool. He pointed to the association's recent decision to launch an online shopping site for members and provide Web sites for dealers at competitive prices.
Wells sees dealership education, particularly in the use of technology, as the best way to improve dealers' relationships with customers, and persuade manufacturers and dot-com companies to realize that franchised dealers are the best channel for vehicle sales.
'We can provide not only virtual showrooms online, but also real cars, real experts and real service,' Wells said. 'We have real people to stand behind our product.'