It must be disappointing for AIADA's leadership that there wasn't a bigger turnout of dealers or even more of the top factory brass at the group's 28th Annual Automotive Congress held in Washington on Tuesday and Wednesday.
The numbers seem to go down each year.
That's too bad because for a political rally, it was a pretty good program. It was well-run, concise and on time. The high-powered political speakers - darned near all free trade-loving Republicans - included Sens. John Thune of South Dakota and Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania and House Majority Leader Tom DeLay of Texas. Former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani was a surprise speaker Tuesday afternoon.
I didn't ask AIADA for a head count because the group almost never releases it.
Nor did I count noses at any of the Tuesday sessions, but the crowd was noticeably thinner than last year. There were a lot fewer tables at the Tuesday night awards dinner and several of those were empty, even though Newsweek magazine's Howard Fineman gave a dandy little speech about the political landscape. Fineman was good, and he included a dose of introspective mea culpa for the magazine's story about abuse of the Koran that it was forced to retract.
There were only about 100 people seated for Wednesday's breakfast, which is the annual kickoff for a day of calling on congressmen and senators to press the group's political agenda. When you factor out association and factory people, plus a couple of reporters, there couldn't have been more than 65 dealers in the room. And that's being generous.
As BMW's Tom Purves said in his breakfast speech at the Capitol Hill Club - which is the Republican Party's club - the dealers who came are among the handful that care and do most of the work on behalf of the many.
Nice words to hear for the dedicated AIADA members. But the diminishing attendance has to be of concern.
Maybe it's because this isn't an election year.
Perhaps it's because the group's key free-trade issues involving the Chicken Tax, trucks from Thailand and the Central America Free Trade Agreement simply don't resonate with the membership.
Or maybe, just maybe, it's because dealers are too busy selling cars.
You may e-mail Edward Lapham at