Special Coverage

NADA Convention & Exposition

Ward’s recently sat down with Annette Sykora, this year’s incoming National Automobile Dealers Assn. chairman, and last year’s Ward’s Dealer of the Year, to get her perspective on issues confronting dealers this year.

Along with her husband, Patrick, Sykora also owns Smith South Plains Ford Mercury in Slaton, TX, and South Plains Ford Lincoln Mercury Dodge Jeep Chrysler in Levelland, TX.

Here are excerpts from the interview:

Ward’s: Are you happy the corporate average fuel economy standards – going from 27.5 mpg (8.5 L/100 km) to 35 mpg (6.7 L/100 km) by 2020 – finally have been settled?

Sykora: It is important to have cars and trucks separated as CAFE is calculated. But when it comes to the energy issue, the fight is not over yet. We (dealers) have to stay involved.

Ward’s: Is that because the National Highway Traffic Safety Admin. is responsible for determining the formula for how the industry will get to that level, and we still don’t know how that will happen?

Sykora: Yes. The dealers are the ones interacting with the customers every day. We know what they’re buying. It has to be done in a way that’ll let customers still be able to buy the vehicles they want.

Ward’s: With the election this year, the industry might not have the answers until sometime next year. Obviously, NADA can’t pick sides, but you have to be watching this one closely.

Sykora: Well, we do have friends on both sides of the aisle. And regardless of the election’s outcome, it’ll be good to know and have that settled so we can plan.

Ward’s: What about the role of the OEMs?

Sykora: Dealers are the ones who open the doors for the manufacturers. It is the dealers who have the personal relationships with their lawmakers and can provide the access needed.

But we also have to have a voice with the OEMs. We can provide the information on what customers are buying and what they are willing to pay for the various green technologies.

Ward’s: Are you concerned with how many states are following California’s lead in passing strict carbon-dioxide emission laws?

Sykora: You’re right that it’s not just at the federal level – it is critically important that dealers stay involved even on the state level.

Ward’s: What other issues are you going to push this year as chairman?

Sykora: I hope we can move the needle into attracting top talent into the industry. Dealerships employ 1 million people in this country. It really is important for this industry. These jobs are not going to India – they’re going to stay here.

We have to continually show that working at a dealership is a career. There is a technology skill set that certainly is needed in dealerships today.

Ward’s: What about dealer-manufacturer relationships today?

Sykora: We have to watch and make sure the OEMs don’t put programs in place that favor one group of dealers over another. Factory incentive programs need to be fair, so one dealer is not receiving an unfair advantage.

Also, OEMs seem to be demanding more and more from their dealers – especially in areas such as facility investment. We have to watch that closely.

Ward’s: How are your two dealerships doing?

Sykora: Both of our stores were very busy at the end of the year. We had a strong December.

As with most dealers, we’re keeping a tight handle on expenses – monitoring productivity. We have had to scale back on personnel. We’re also making sure our ad spend is ‘impactful.’ Currently, we’re building a new dealership website in house that we’re excited about.

One thing we’re doing differently is beefing up what we’re doing with the Mustang and our accessory sales. I called Ed Woods, (a Ford dealer in North Carolina who is one of the top specialty Mustang sellers) and asked him to help us.

Inventory is another area we are controlling carefully.

Ward’s: At the North American International Auto Show, Ford showed off its new F-150 while Dodge introduced the new Ram. That has to make you happy.

Sykora: With those new trucks, I won’t have any trouble taking care of my truck customers. It looks like Toyota is working that Texas market harder than ever, so I imagine we’ll have some good deals (incentives) this coming year.

With Ford turning control of the ad money back to the dealers, that will help significantly this year.

cbanks@wardsauto.com