Secondly, I want to offer dealers more robust solutions related to the challenges the industry faces with diversity.
Despite strong efforts by OEMs and dealers and other stakeholders, racial and gender diversity remains stagnant, so we've got to get that moving.
Third is improving the dealer-OEM relationship, but doing so through the lens of the customer. So instead of fighting over the scraps, if you will, I want to get us to refocus and think about advancing the franchise system by really doing outstanding work in the way of connecting with customers.
And finally, like the chairman before me, I want to focus on improving dealer involvement with NADA. There are still too many dealers who don't know the full extent of what we do and how important the work is.
What are the top issues facing NADA?
First and foremost, we're facing a world right now where everything is virtual, including our convention, so we want to make sure our dealers are engaged with that virtual offering as opposed to our traditional convention strategy. Really, we could still be facing months and months of this communications strategy, and it really does change everything about what we do in our mission and how we do it.
We're in a very different world right now, so I think that's a challenge because it feels different.
But we're making efforts right now to make the appropriate connections to the new Biden administration, because we want to engage with them as much as we possibly can to make sure that they are properly informed about what auto dealers do and what our role is in keeping this economy moving along. It's a communication strategy to make sure that they're aware that we provide a million jobs in this country, about $70 billion in employee wages, almost 19 percent of U.S. retail sales and $90 billion in state sales tax revenue, so we're a pretty important piece of the puzzle.
We obviously have ongoing legislative issues, to make sure that [legislators] are properly informed and understand the full consequences of what it is they are proposing. But fundamentally, we've got to make sure that, at the end of the day, we're about protecting and promoting the franchise system and making sure that dealers are able to be successful, and that is kind of the same issues we've faced ever since NADA came into existence, and they remain the issues today.
What is the future of remote work for dealerships post-COVID-19?
It's interesting. At our company, we have centralized accounting, and we had about 200 team members working in a central office. But a lot of people really enjoy working from home, and so many of these things can be done just as well from home.
I think for dealerships, some percentage of the jobs will continue to be remote, but there are a lot of things where it's just the opposite — where people need or want to conduct business face-to-face and with a personal connection, so I think it will be a hybrid of the two for a while. Ultimately, I think dealers will need to be able to offer a way for people to work to do the best that they can do in whatever way allows us to attract and retain the best people.
The pandemic has changed the way the NADA board operates as well, hasn't it?
It's curious, and there are aspects of working this way that I like and aspects that I hate. For example, we saved a substantial sum last year on travel expenses because of virtual meetings.
Typically, we would have 63 directors from all over the country flying in two or three times a year for our big meetings, and then coming in at other times for smaller committee meetings.
All those airfares and all those hotel expenses were gone last year, and that was meaningful. I think it's important for our directors to still connect on a personal level, to get to know each other and develop relationships. But going forward, maybe some of those meetings, at least on the committee level, can remain virtual.
What do you think the long-term impacts of a virtual NADA Show will be?
I see this as a bit of hybrid as well. There is clearly energy that is produced when humans are in contact with one another, and there are aspects of that which just cannot be replaced.
But on the other hand, if you're a dealer and you've got 10 people that you want to have at this convention every year, that's a lot of travel expense.
So perhaps instead you can say that, for two or three people, it's really important for them to physically be there, but for the rest, I'm going to make it so that you can attend the make meetings and have access to the workshops and the exhibitors virtually.
I think there's a best-of-both-worlds solution to this going forward, like so many other things.
The average transaction prices of vehicles are at record highs. What should NADA do?
This gets into the conversation about electrification. There's clearly a shift going on here from internal combustion engines to electric motors.
I think that you're going to see an awful lot of electric offerings coming in the next 24 months; that will only continue to accelerate this affordability issue.
At the end of the day, we still don't have the ability to produce EVs at prices that are affordable for most consumers, and so as much as we all want to get there — particularly those that have sensitivity to the environment who are really pushing this, and for good reason — but we have to be a little bit careful as to how fast we make this journey, because if we push this too hard and too fast, we're basically going to put the price of vehicles out of reach for an awful lot of consumers.
All of this R&D spend that has been done by manufacturers to go down this path is meaningful, and the manufacturers need to be able to recover that. We need to support these improvements, but do it in a way that's affordable.