LAS VEGAS -- Alignment systems calibrated, dent-removal machines massaged and accessories sparkled.
The future was so bright at the 99th National Automobile Dealers Association get-together, you needed virtual-reality glasses.
Life on the convention floor was as frothy as the car washes that dotted the insides of the north and south halls in this surreal desert town.
Booths were bigger. And money flowed.
Think: dot-com kind of momentum, only with a better Wi-Fi connection.
Chevrolet and Buick-GMC dealers were told to expect more pickup and SUV production.
Lincoln reported a list of 40,000 people who want a Continental. Porsche executives talked growth.
Infiniti, Audi, Mini: all optimistic.
And everyone is on the Vegas monorail headed for great times.
Except dealers (and, OK, Volkswagen).
If you're looking for a weather vane atop this remarkable, record sales plateau, spend a few days with retailers in Vegas.
The money, opportunities and ideas may be flowing, but dealers are stone-cold worried about the future.
It was an odd difference of opinion, perhaps appropriate for an NADA year with a scheduling hiccup that had dealers spending the last day of March on a convention floor -- not a showroom floor.
Do dealers know something we don't?
In election-year speak: You betcha.
Dealers talked all weekend about retail sales that were off 8 percent on a selling-day basis in a soft March; fleet volume rose 13 percent.
They brooded about punched cars, increasing recalls, rising incentives, longer auto loans and talk of facility improvements. (Say it ain't so, Joe, as some Jaguar Land Rover dealers whispered privately.)
Dealers are, of course, always looking over their left shoulder.
When the world was expanding at a blinding pace, post-recession, their sky was always about to fall.
But this time, they are doing some concrete things to cut the plateau off at the pass. They are cutting costs (a couple of big public groups have been scaling back hugely since January) and doubling down on other profit centers.
"Parts, service. I want more share of the wallet," Penske Automotive CEO Roger Penske told the audience at the Automotive News Retail Forum. "Quick lube, tires, dent repair. Don't let the customer get away."
For many, Penske's path is the new way forward: Diversify or die.
There's also an underlying urgency to get costs in order because not everything is as it seems.
Manufacturers may be wide-eyed and wildly optimistic, but dealers are covering their bases.
The displays may have been glitzy, but what dealers are buying is sustainability.
Dealers are smart. They know what's coming.
And on any roller coaster, gravity never loses, no matter how fun the ride might seem.