NADA turns 100 this year, just as I'm closing in on 20 years as president of the New Jersey Coalition of Automotive Retailers.
As one of more than 100 members of the Automotive Trade Association Executives in the United States, I have had a front-row seat to watch how NADA works and all it has done on behalf of the nation's 16,000-plus franchised new-car and -truck dealerships.
The close working relationship between NADA and ATAE members is an example of how an exceptional partnership produces a whole that is greater than the sum of its parts.
Think about the seemingly insurmountable challenges that have confronted auto retailers in just the past two decades, and look at the state of the auto-retail sector today. The nation's franchised dealers continue to be a major force in the economic, social, cultural and public life of all Americans.
Dealers have stood up to challenges that many industry analysts predicted would spell the end of the franchised dealership in America. These challenges include:
- Public ownership.
- The Internet sales revolution.
- Costly factory image and facility programs.
- Arbitrary and unreasonable performance standards and programs.
- The demise of Oldsmobile, Saturn, Pontiac, Mercury, Saab and other brands.
- Automaker bankruptcies.
- The Great Recession and the credit freeze.
- The widespread closure of long-established dealerships and a significant reduction in the number of dealership locations across the United States.
- Regulation by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and Federal Trade Commission.
- Tesla/direct sales efforts.
- Automaker misconduct that damaged brand integrity.
Each of those challenges has posed an existential threat to the dealer body or some significant segment of it. Still, dealerships remain strong. More than 16,000 dealerships sold more new vehicles in 2015 and 2016 than in any other two consecutive years in the history of the automotive business.
The franchise motor vehicle distribution system is resilient, and new-vehicle dealers are adaptable. But part of the credit for that success must go to NADA, which has assembled staffers with passion for and commitment to the industry they serve.
NADA's leadership and vision on the most challenging issues facing dealers and its ability to educate and mobilize dealers to meet those challenges are remarkable. Its partnership with executives of state and metropolitan automotive trade associations gives it scope and reach that no other national business advocacy group of its kind could dream of.
Behind the scenes, it's not always pretty. NADA's national role sometimes requires careful choices about which battles to fight and when. The organization must maintain an open and diplomatic dialogue with sometimes adversarial regulators, automakers and other special interest groups in Washington.
NADA's role in industry relations often calls for restraint when some dealer advocates would prefer decisive action. ATAE members often must play the bad cops or hardliners, while NADA plays the role of good cop or peacemaker.
Over the years, that dynamic has sometimes caused friction in what is an otherwise smooth-running advocacy machine. But everyone has a role to play to help dealers win. At the end of the day, that's what matters.
ATAE members proudly acknowledge what an honor it is to represent the retail automotive industry. Franchised dealers in the United States sell more than 17 million new vehicles a year, and nearly as many used vehicles.
They sell more than $100 billion a year in parts and service. Their independently owned and operated businesses employ more than 1.1 million men and women in local jobs with great pay and benefits -- jobs that can't be outsourced or shipped overseas.
Franchised dealers are recognized as the backbone of their communities. They contribute many millions of dollars a year to local charities and lead community goodwill endeavors of every description.
Their dealerships offer convenient and high-quality service to keep America's highways safe, to maintain vehicles in peak working condition and to repair manufacturers' defects in recalled vehicles -- approximately 100 million such vehicles in 2014 and 2015 alone.
On this 100th anniversary of NADA, it's worth reflecting on the fact that franchised dealers who compete so aggressively can set aside their individual business interests and come together for the greater good and to create and sustain a national trade association such as NADA.
Some existential threat is always on the horizon -- some new business trend or technological innovation that is supposed to spell the end for franchised dealers. But history has taught us that the franchise system is resilient and that franchised dealers are continually embracing change and reinventing themselves to add value for consumers and the communities and automakers they represent.
NADA has more than proved its value over the past century, and it, too, continues to sharpen its game to meet the challenges that lie ahead.