Twenty years ago, when I attended the NADA convention for the first time, auto retailing was a different world.
Though dealers bickered with automakers, they were still able to challenge the factories in the courts using the state franchise laws. I doubt anyone imagined a day when a federal bankruptcy judge would throw franchise rights out the window.
During the 1990 convention, NADA Chairman Ron Tonkin gave a stirring speech, announcing he was suing Chrysler, Ford, GM and Toyota over fleet subsidies. He charged that the automakers unfairly paid fleet incentives allowing daily rental fleets to buy vehicles at prices below dealer invoice.
Tonkin's zeal contrasts sharply with the tone of the speech NADA's 2009 Chairman John McEleney gave during the general session Saturday. While McEleney said he felt sorry for the dealers GM and Chrysler rejected, he also complimented President Obama's auto task force, referring to it as "decisive and responsive" and "well-intentioned."
The NADA leadership could use some of the righteous anger Tonkin showed 20 years ago.