Leon Edwards, a former president of the National Automobile Dealers Association who led the group when it agreed to a decade of antitrust oversight by the U.S. Justice Department, died Saturday. He was 89.
Edwards, a Chevrolet dealer from Birmingham, Ala., was NADA president in 1995. During his tenure, NADA agreed to the antitrust settlement that called for 10 years of monitoring after the organization was accused of making illegal efforts to limit price competition in car sales to consumers.
At the time, NADA leaders, including Edwards, said they opted to settle with the Justice Department rather than face litigation that they said would have cost at least $1 million to defend, according to an October 1995 article by Automotive News.
Edwards and other NADA leaders denied that the association's actions violated antitrust laws. But the cost to fight the allegations in court could have been "crippling," Edwards said in a letter to NADA members after the board voted to settle.
As part of the Sept. 20, 1995, settlement, NADA admitted no fault, promised not to break the law, paid no fine and agreed to 10 years of Justice Department scrutiny.
In his letter, Edwards also wrote, "Throughout this investigation, NADA has argued that addressing these issues and the many other issues confronting dealers is a proper function of a trade association."
Edwards himself was cited in the Justice Department's investigation. As president-elect of the organization in 1994, Edwards chaired a NADA task force on reduced new-vehicle margins. The task force released a draft report that mistakenly contained an unapproved recommendation that dealers refuse to do business with auto brokers. That provision was caught and removed from the report before a final version was issued.
Edwards launched his year as NADA president describing himself to Automotive News as a "negotiator" and saying he wanted to improve dealers' relationships with automakers.
"You don't have to 'give 'em hell' in speeches to deal with the manufacturer," Edwards said. "I think you can do more by sitting down with them in a closed room and give them your side and listen to their side and trying to work out a compromise. That's the way to get things done."
During Edwards' 58 years in the automotive industry, he held positions on the NADA Board of Directors and Chevrolet National Dealer Council and was president of the Birmingham Automobile Dealers Association. He also mentored and offered support to several employees who started their own dealerships in Alabama and Florida.
His father, William Sterling Edwards, started Edwards Chevrolet in 1916. His son, Lee Edwards, is carrying on the family business.