LAS VEGAS — National Automobile Dealers Association Chairman Rhett Ricart used his introductory address at the 2020 NADA Show to reassure dealers that they'll "be just fine" as new technology and services transform the automotive industry.
"We'll meet disruption at the door and no matter what the name is, we'll answer it," he said in an impassioned 15-minute speech.
"Dealers thrive on disruption...There's something to be said of auto dealers that went through wars, recessions, depressions, oil embargoes, global economic meltdowns, OEM bankruptcies, and are still upright, standing tall, and stronger than ever."
Ricart, 63, is CEO of Ricart Automotive Group, which sells seven brands at seven stores in Columbus, Ohio.
He said Monday his top priority as chairman is to improve dealer profitability. Ricart previously told Automotive News that the group's top challenges this year include working with manufacturers to keep vehicles affordable and to ensure they have a sustainable business model in an era of changes, including electrification, autonomy and new mobility services.
He said he'd continue the push started by past NADA Chairman Charlie Gilchrist to address the industry's service technician shortage.
Ricart said he'll also prioritize the organization's Women Driving Automotive Retail initiative, which helps increase female employment in dealerships.
Ricart did not directly address a Colorado bill introduced last week that, if passed, would allow automakers to sell electric vehicles directly to consumers, but he did stress the franchise system was the best option even as new powertrains and technology take root.
"If you think it's going to be easy fixing an all-electric, autonomous car in the future without a tried and true service department network to back you up, you're in a dream world," he said. "The franchise system remains the most efficient and sustainable retail distribution network in America, if not the world."
On the legislative front, Ricart vowed NADA would continue to fight for dealers "whether D.C.'s painted blue or red" after this year's presidential election.
Aside from new technology, he cited a number of high profile scandals, including the ongoing UAW federal corruption probe, VW's dieselgate saga and drama surrounding international fugitive Carlos Ghosn as outside noise that retailers have persevered through.
"The disruption will come and go," Ricart said. "The constant is you and me, the dealers."