The mood at the Automotive News Retail Forum: NADA was positively positive.
It was almost jarring, at first — the contrast with the steady drumbeat of threats to dealers' very existence. Tesla winning the right to sell in Michigan. Rivian planning to sell directly to consumers as well as to Amazon. Now a bill in Colorado to allow manufacturers to sell electric vehicles directly to consumers and bypass local franchisees.
But why shouldn't retailers be upbeat? While General Motors' and its suppliers' fourth-quarter results were depressed by the UAW strike and Ford's by pension accounting, public dealership groups reported robust results — despite the 2019 decline in new-vehicle sales. AutoNation, for instance, just reported record earnings per share from continuing operations.
CEO Cheryl Miller told Automotive News Publisher Jason Stein at the forum that she hears the skepticism.
"People say, 'How's the industry doing? There's a lot of trade news.' The industry is doing great," she said.
It was a sentiment that echoed throughout the day from the likes of Ron Frey and John Bergstrom.
Auto dealers are tremendous entrepreneurs who adapt to compete and take care of the bottom line. Is this stair-step worth chasing? How can I maximize the thriving used-vehicle business? What other opportunities are there?
It takes resilience to withstand the financial crises and business disruptions, Miller and others said. But when you do, the rewards are worth it. One wonderful thing about automotive retail, the former CFO pointed out: "It's a great cash-flow business."