So who will do the talking for American car dealers when Mike Jackson steps down from the bully pulpit that is AutoNation?
For that matter, what other dealer can talk like Mike Jackson?
The ebullient former dealership mechanic — AutoNation's CEO since 1999 — has been nothing less than the voice of the industry, an in-your-face articulator of issues weighing on all dealers; a blunt force able to sway giant automakers and even the U.S. government.
Those are mighty big shoes to fill as the nation's largest new-vehicle retailer launches its search for a successor to Jackson, who will move to a new executive chairman role next year. The transition could make for a major tonal shift at AutoNation. It's one thing to find a savvy business leader who can capably run 250 dealerships; it's another to find a Great Communicator.
Of course, Jackson, who will turn 70 in February, makes sure to stress that he's sticking around for a while.
"This is not a retirement," Jackson told Automotive News. Then in the same conversation, demonstrating the bullhorn role he's developed, Jackson chimed in on some topics that are thorns in the side of dealers.
Though business is in good shape today, "The industry is massively inefficient in inventory management and incentive programs," Jackson said. "The incentive programs are not what the consumer wants. I think it leads to a chaotic, unfair, disruptive, disorderly marketplace that consumers really don't like." And that situation is getting worse, not better, he added.
Making assessments like that with regular frequency has earned Jackson accolades from many dealers. The praise was evident last week after news broke about the CEO search.
"Can he please, please still be the voice of all dealers as heard through Automotive News?" one commenter on the Automotive News website wrote.
Another said, "Mr. Jackson has given the dealer voice credibility to those who would dismiss."