There was some remarkable dialogue between manufacturers and their franchised dealers this month at the National Automobile Dealers Association convention in Orlando.
Of course, there were notable exceptions of companies not in attendance -- manufacturers that don't seem to see their dealers as equal partners. Instead, they see them as outlets to sell vehicles and do the factory's bidding.
But, happily, there is an awakening to the importance of having good relationships with dealers. Most factories realize the importance of building or keeping these avenues of communication open.
I would strongly recommend that any company with a board of directors, whether it's a dealer or factory, send its entire board to next year's NADA convention.
It happens to be in San Francisco, so it's not particularly hard duty. But there's another reason: Many executives with important influence at their company don't have a clue how this complex business works.
It would be time well-spent for these independent directors to spend time with their dealers and others in the business.
Plenty of companies use franchises to sell and represent their businesses -- from hotels to fast food. But no business has the complexity of the new-car and truck business.
Meanwhile, the American International Automobile Dealers Association seems to be alive and well. The industry needs an independent organization for the issues of non-American automobile companies and dealers -- in crisis situations or not. AIADA seems to be a good fit with NADA. AIADA has its own voice. It is a powerful complement to NADA, and it's nice to see it prospering.
All in all, NADA got a lot done this year. In freezing Florida temperatures that stunned everyone, issues like the Toyota recalls were discussed and dissected.
Make meetings featured a more honest dialogue between partners.
It's been a tough 18 months. Every aspect of the auto industry has suffered mightily. Everyone has been hurt, some more than others.
But NADA had right-sized its meeting this year, and it worked well.
This business faces plenty of issues in the next year, particularly from the federal government.
Let's hope the spirit of cooperation remains high, particularly in this period of increased federal intervention.