Buzz Rodland, incoming chairman of the American International Automobile Dealers Association, says there is a definite need for two industry lobbying groups. While the National Automobile Dealers Association and AIADA have many mutual issues, he says, AIADA is the only organization that lobbies for free trade and is dedicated exclusively to international nameplates. He spoke with Staff Reporter Gail Kachadourian.
Why do you want to be AIADA chairman?
I went to my first AIADA lunch with my Dad (who acquired Rodland Toyota in 1962) in the 1970s, and he said, "You need to get involved in this group if you're going to succeed. "
I have a passion for politics. I have a great deal of gratitude for the association, for what they've done for my business.
How will you spend your time?
We have a very aggressive agenda that we will be rolling out that will be announced by Tim Smith and myself (at AIADA's Feb. 2 meeting in Las Vegas). We're entering a new era with AIADA. The first 15 years of our existence was the lobbyist phase, where we hired a professional lobbyist to represent us with Congress. The next 15 years, starting with 1985, was a grass-roots phase, where we trained dealers to be lobbyists themselves. We're entering a new era that is yet to be named. It's a major step up in grass-roots lobbying.
What are your goals for 2004?
In 2004 we're continuing what we've been doing last year. We're going to raise the bar with our grass-roots operation. We have a very strong grass-roots program where we try to match a dealer with every member of Congress, especially on key committees. The proof of what we do is how many Hill visits (face time with members of Congress) we get.
We have a Driving Change campaign, which facilitates dealer visits with members of Congress out in the districts.
It's a neat way to invite your congressman to your dealership. When the congressman shows up, you assemble in the showroom. You take them for a small tour of the dealership. Just this year, we've had 94 congressional district visits in the dealerships.
(In the last four months of 2003), we've had, I think, 75 meetings with House and Senate offices. In terms of member value, we are all over the place in Washington, D.C., now, and we fully intend to do even more in the future.
Our goals are to increase membership; get more dealers involved in outreach programs, legislative programs; get more dealers into dealerships with the Driving Change program; and have more presence on Capitol Hill.
When did you become an AIADA member?
We (his dealership, Rodland Toyota in Everett, Wash.) have always belonged to AIADA, right from the beginning, in 1970.
What benefits have you received from being an AIADA member?
We owe them everything. I honestly feel our dealership wouldn't have been here without AIADA, culminating in 1995 with the sanctions fight. (The Clinton administration threatened a 100 percent tariff on 13 Japanese luxury imports to pressure Japan for more fairness in automotive trade.) The sanctions put a lot of my friends out of business. There has been a lot of unfair trade legislation and high tariffs that AIADA has had a hand in.
What has frustrated you about AIADA?
Nothing frustrates me. I'm really proud of what we're doing. I'm really encouraged by the progress we've made in the last two years, especially with (2002 Chairman Jamie) Auffenberg and (2003 Chairman Tim) Smith. We've got a strong infrastructure, ambitious plans.
We've got a level of energy that goes beyond what we had before.
We have a new president. We hired Marianne McInerney (in 2003). She has hired a team that has brought new vigor. My biggest challenge this year is going to be keeping up with the staff.
What are the main issues for AIADA dealers, and how will you address those concerns?
Trade continues to be the single most important issue that we're watching.
Consumers overwhelmingly see the value of free and open trade. International nameplate automobiles are responsible for 23 United States-based manufacturing facilities. There are three more assembly plants that are currently being built or planned, and there are 39 international nameplate models being built by U.S. auto workers in an industry that employs a half million workers, and that story just isn't coming out during an election, and that's our job. It's our job to inform elected officials.
Is NADA addressing the free trade issue?
Most all of us at AIADA are also members of NADA. Our industry is very, very fortunate to have two effective lobbying associations. We work on many mutual issues, and as far as we're concerned, the more hands we have on deck, the better off we'll all be. But we are the only association that lobbies for free trade. At the end of the day, we're the only organization dedicated exclusively to the international nameplate community, and that's why we exist.
How will you validate AIADA?
Only AIADA can ensure that the rights of international nameplate dealers and manufacturers are protected.
It's vital that our industry has a vocal force lobbying on its behalf, now more than ever. And now more than ever, it's vital that international nameplate dealers are represented on Capitol Hill. And we do that.
NADA does a terrific job, and we're all members of both. But we're the specialists on the international side.
Does AIADA discuss the criticism it has received in the press about its relevance?
Not really. We have this quiet optimism that we know what we're doing is providing value to our dealers. We've always been confident about that, and we still are. This organization is stronger than ever before. We had the highest level of dues last year in our history. We have 9,100 members.
What is your response to Automotive News' editorial saying AIADA is simply a bureaucratic organization?
It was grossly underinformed. The members have always seen the value. I think now the members are seeing a lot more value than they did before. Our dealers look at paying their dues as the cheapest insurance that they pay. Our members are telling us that we're making a difference, and we know that.
Will AIADA raise its dues again this year as it did in 2002?
Not that we anticipate.
You hired a new president in 2003. Will you make any personnel changes this year?
We just hired a new lobbyist. We've had lobbyists in the past, but when we lost our lobbyist a number of years ago, he wasn't replaced.
How long had AIADA been without a lobbyist?
What will be the effect of having your own lobbyist?
At AIADA, the dealers are the lobbyists. That person just can make more difference on the Hill when we're not there. They make a difference, but they don't make as big a difference as having more dealers involved and getting more dealers on the hill. We're obviously going to be more effective with a full-time lobbyist. But the dealers in AIADA are the lobbyists.
Does AIADA have any new programs that you will try to launch?
Yes, we're not at liberty to talk about them yet. But we'll roll some of those out at NADA.
What will be your biggest challenges this year, and how will you overcome them?
The whole job is a challenge. We're all very confident that we're going to meet all of our objectives, which again includes getting more people on the Hill and getting more dealers involved and doing our due diligence with the issues.
As boring as that sounds, that's the everyday work of AIADA, and that's what gives value to our members.
How will your managing style differ from that of Tim Smith?
I see Tim and I being very, very similar. I'm just going to be a different face.
What are AIADA's most recent accomplishments?
We've been doing our job. It's like asking an insurance company. The proof of an insurance company isn't the past claims they've paid. It's that they have been there to protect the businesses that pay them a premium to do so. That's what we do. We monitor issues. We lobby Congress. Hopefully, our lobbying efforts stem an awful lot of bad things that just don't come our way. That's what we're doing, and we're always going to do that.
So there are still issues specific to AIADA and not NADA, even though import brands are manufacturing more in the United States?
There are similar areas between the two associations, but there are some distinct and fundamental differences.
AIADA is the only lobby dedicated exclusively to the interests of the international nameplate dealers and manufacturers.