The nation's import dealers are declaring a new mission for themselves - providing lobbying muscle on the industry's political challenges, regardless of whether they are unique to import issues.
'We face new and additional challenges both within the industry and in Washington,' said Richard Kull, who was named chairman of the American International Automobile Dealers Association at a luncheon during the NADA convention Feb. 5.
'Our mission will change. Our issues will change. But one thing will remain constant - there is a continual threat to our business.'
One key battle for the lobbying group: fighting the national estate tax, which taxes assets that are transferred from one generation to another.
'We have someone in almost every congressional district in the country who has access to their congressman, who can be called on to carry our message to both houses of Congress,' Kull said.
Kull carefully emphasized that trade issues still will be a core battle for non-Big 3 franchisees.
Even though the trade front has calmed since the mid-1990s, the threat of political retaliations and trade interruptions always is alive, said Kull, who owns six import and domestic dealerships in New Jersey.
But he said the industry now faces issues that must be tackled with import dealers and domestic dealers standing shoulder-to-shoulder.
On the trade front, Kull warned that trouble is brewing between the United States and South Korea.
Last year, he noted, in South Korea only 2,400 imported vehicles were sold. But at the same time, South Korean exports into the United States have been growing in double digits.
Kull said AIADA also may lend its voice to a festering dispute between the United States and Mexico about cross-border trucking regulations. The feud has nothing to do with the auto industry - and particularly nothing to do with import-brand dealers in the United States. But Kull said the issue 'is about free trade. How can we ask the other countries to stick to free trade rules if our own country isn't practicing free trade?'