In “Through the Looking-Glass and What Alice Found There,” Lewis Carroll wrote:

“The time has come,” the Walrus said,
“To talk of many things:
Of shoes –  and ships  –  and sealing-wax –

Of cabbages –  and kings –

And why the sea is boiling hot –

And whether pigs have wings.”

I am always amused to see so many pundits and futurists (myself included) second-guessing what’s next. Like the Walrus, we can speak with authority and believability to any audience.

My datebook is filled with speaking engagements. I recently spoke at Brian Pasch’s Automotive Boot Camp in Las Vegas. At a reception the night before, a young attendee told me “Mr. Ziegler, you have truly become a patriarch in the auto-retail industry.”

Excuse me. I’ve been kicking around this business for 36 years, but has it come to that? A patriarch?

On that subject, I am deeply saddened by the passing of Carroll Shelby, creator of special-edition performance cars.

I wish I had known him better; it was one of those business friendships where you see each other at car shows and industry events.

But my best recollection of him is my first meeting with “The Legend” I had worshipped since I was a kid. It was in the 1990s while I was doing consulting work with Murphy and Shelby Dodge in San Fernando, CA. I was working with one of the partners, Bill Murphy. It had never occurred to me who the “Shelby” part of the partnership was until I went there and met Carroll Shelby.

The hour or two I spent talking with him, sitting on the tailgate of a Dodge truck on the lot, remains a vivid memory. He was excited about a big deal he had just brokered, not involving high-horsepower performance cars but rather selling tractors in Russia.

We talked about his team working on enhancing the output of six Dodge Viper engines. “We’ve got them up to 1,500 hp,” he said. “We just don’t know what we’re going to put them in.”

Here I was speaking to one of my ultimate heroes. This was the guy who created the Cobra and the original Shelby GT350 Mustang, later the Shelby GT500 KR and a parade of jaw-dropping muscle cars.

During the ensuing years, I had brief encounters and conversations with him. He always remembered my name and even knew some of the things I was up to. Competing with a crowd for his time could never match that first conversation back in the 1990s.

What we all admired was the man who couldn’t be stopped, even while suffering physical setbacks. Despite a heart transplant, kidney transplant and confinement to a wheelchair, he kept on keeping on, and everything he touched was amazing.  He remains an inspiration.

I’m smiling these days. Business is great and dealers have few grievances as it seems the factories are re-prioritized and back to their primary mission of designing, building and nationally marketing vehicles.

Sales volumes are increasing and customer incentives decreasing. Two-tiered wholesale pricing schemes are falling out of favor. Auto makers are adjusting their production schedules to demand.

The end result is they are carrying over less inventory at distressed prices and high liquidation incentives we’ve traditionally suffered at year’s end because everyone overproduced the market. 

This is great, but unfortunately many dealers have not learned that this is a supply-and-demand issue that should allow them to sell cars at a premium, ultimately making more money on fewer sales. 

There needs to be a major shift in our “value proposition” mentality and dealership culture. And finally, stop hiring vendors who charge you to lower your profits.

I am more excited about the car business than I have been in years. It’s back. It’s resilient. Any industry that has guys like Carroll Shelby in it must be great.

Jim Ziegler, president of Ziegler Supersystems, is a trainer, commentator and public speaker on dealership issues. He can be reached at zieglerss@aol.com.