ORLANDO -- Dealers who questioned whether the National Automobile Dealers Association adequately defended dealers' interests last year will see a lot more of the group in 2010, said Ed Tonkin, who became NADA chairman Feb. 15.
"We have a new attitude that our agenda for NADA must be built from the bottom up, directly from dealer input," Tonkin said at the closing session of the NADA convention last week.
In an interview before his speech, Tonkin said that means traveling to speak with individual dealers and to state and local groups.
"We have to be out in front of them," he said.
Last year, NADA's actions weren't as visible as the leadership desired, said Tonkin, who was vice chairman in 2009. The association's leaders had to keep many meetings quiet for political reasons, and they spent much of their travel time in Detroit, New York or Washington. Regular travel can resume this year, Tonkin said.
In 2009, General Motors and Chrysler said they would cut more than 2,000 franchises combined in their bankruptcies. NADA said the dealer cuts would have been worse without its intervention, but dealers still questioned whether the association did enough to help them.
Later in the year, some surviving dealers complained when NADA supported a federal law giving rejected dealers the right to seek arbitration.
Just as dealers need to remember that "association" means "together," Tonkin said in his speech, GM and Chrysler must remember to work with their dealers.
GM canceled its exhibit space and make-meeting participation at this year's convention after NADA supported the arbitration bill, sources have said. But at the convention, Mark Reuss, president of GM North America, met with NADA representatives and later said their relationship is on the mend.
That healing needs to continue, Tonkin told Automotive News. He said dealers are looking for GM to supply them enough of the automaker's hot models.
"Actions speak louder than words," Tonkin said.
Chrysler CEO Sergio Marchionne, on the other hand, needs to start listening to his company's dealers, Tonkin said.
"He thinks he can come here and dictate what happens," Tonkin said, pointing out differences between the United States and Marchionne's native Italy. "He can learn a lot from the retail industry here."