NADA's convention and exposition this month will kick off the celebration of the association's 100th anniversary. New Orleans is hosting the annual convention for the 12th time since 1973.
Again this year, the NADA convention -- featuring keynote speakers, workshops, franchise meetings, exhibits and networking opportunities -- is designed to boost auto dealers' business model. That mission of serving dealers took root in 1918, when 138 members of the newly formed association met in Chicago.
Those delegates worked to make connections and forge strategies that advanced their businesses and those that followed. They continued the work of NADA's founders, who had successfully lobbied Congress in 1917 against levying a luxury tax on automobiles.
I have had a behind-the-scenes look at the annual convention since I joined NADA in 1974. That year, there were long lines at gasoline pumps, fuel shortages and high gasoline prices because of the embargo imposed by members of the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries. Many drivers gave up larger cars and sought fuel-efficient options.
Although the OPEC embargo hit the auto industry hard, the 1974 NADA convention was upbeat. Dealers banded together to reconfigure their businesses in response to urgent challenges. Even after the embargo ended that March, gasoline prices remained at higher levels.
Over the next several decades, auto retailing faced industry and legislative storms, as well as new regulations from government agencies such as the EPA and Federal Trade Commission.
These and other historic events influenced the planning, implementation and attendance of the NADA convention.
n After the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks disrupted the National Football League's schedule, the NFL asked NADA to delay its 2002 New Orleans convention by a week, to accommodate the playoffs and the Super Bowl, which was also in New Orleans. NADA and the NFL worked to waive registration fees for dealers and managers attending the convention. NADA members donated more than $1 million to a relief fund for 9/11 survivors established by the NADA charitable foundation.
n Hurricanes Katrina and Rita slammed into Louisiana and the Gulf Coast region in August and September 2005, posing planning challenges for the 2009 convention in New Orleans. NADA decided to keep the convention in the city, supporting the rebuilding efforts. NADA members raised about $4 million for the NADA charitable foundation's Emergency Relief Fund to help hurricane and flood victims.
n In 2008, the Great Recession froze access to credit and brought auto sales to a near standstill. But at the 2009 convention in New Orleans, former Presidents George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton encouraged dealers to remain resilient.
As NADA members have faced challenges, the association's convention has adapted to offer dealers and dealership managers the vital resources they need to overcome these obstacles.
Today, the convention holds educational workshops and industry meetings in conference rooms that feature the latest technology. Dealers and managers plug into their digital networks to get the most out of these sessions.
Exhibit space at the convention has been as high as nearly 400,000 square feet. More than 500 exhibitors give dealers the insights, products, services and connections they need to improve their business operations.
As dealers network, peruse displays and attend presentations, they also can take part in the Lifestyle Experience. Technology experts solve dealers' connectivity and technical issues in the Social Connection Zone.
NADA remains committed to improving its annual convention and expo, providing the necessary resources to keep it on the cutting edge.