There was a time not too long ago when most car dealers were content to remain on the sidelines of national politics. Like a lot of other Americans, they saw inside-the-beltway affairs as inconsequential to their daily lives.
They were content to focus on their businesses and, occasionally, on state and local issues that had an impact on their bottom line. When it came to the federal government, very few dealers were engaged in the process.
Most were happy to limit their involvement to sending their annual dues to dealer associations while others did nothing at all.
Boy, how times have changed.
The events of the past couple of years have proved beyond a doubt that dealers' sphere of influence must expand beyond state lines to include the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives and federal agencies. Those are the institutions and people -- some elected and some appointed -- that can shut us dealers down, open us back up, unionize our employees, and decide whether we can offer financing to our customers and whether our cars are safe to drive. The government has never been so involved in our business.
It is high time we repay the favor.
After all, the automobile business is not a spectator sport. I know that not everyone has the appetite to call his or her federal representatives directly, but sitting on our hands is no longer an option. The reality is that the few dealers who once could be relied on to represent you in Washington may no longer be in a position to do so.
A new generation of dealer advocates needs to come forward. Doing so means supporting your state association, the National Automobile Dealers Association, the National Association of Minority Automobile Dealers and the American International Automobile Dealers Association.
Supporting them means not only paying your dues but also being active in the grass-roots programs and putting the services divisions of those associations to use.
Finally, getting involved means contributing to such organizations as NADA's Dealers Election Action Committee and the Automotive Free International Trade Political Action Committee.
Our voices don't fall on deaf ears in Washington. Dealers helped shape the cash-for-clunkers program last year and demanded justice for the owners of shuttered General Motors and Chrysler stores. Dealers are leading the fight for one national fuel efficiency standard. Lawmakers are listening. Are you talking to them?
Here's a current example. There is a bill winding its way through Congress that if passed would establish a new consumer financial protection agency or bureau. The proposed agency would subject dealerships, which are already regulated by the Federal Trade Commission, the Federal Reserve and state entities, to the same oversight and red tape as big Wall Street banks. Without a Senate amendment exempting dealers, the financing options dealers can offer customers will be severely limited, and some dealers may find they can no longer afford to offer any financing to customers.
Senate debate on the bill has already begun. As a dealer, where do you want to be on this issue: on the sidelines or in the game?
As chairman of AIADA, I have no patience with dealer passivity. This business requires constant vigilance and focus. If you want to stick your head in the sand while the world changes around you, get out of the auto industry. It's not fair to your employees or your customers. As one automotive executive put it, “If you don't want to do the heavy lifting, then at least support the guys who do the lifting for you.”
AIADA offers dealers countless opportunities to become engaged with Washington's legislative process. Visit aiada.org today and take advantage of them.
Standing on the sidelines is a luxury. And, these days, it's one dealers can no longer afford.