"Increasingly necessary" Free trade advocate AIADA has different agenda than NADA's MARLTON, NJ - Now and then someone suggests merging the National Auto Dealers Association and the American International Automobile Dealers Association.

The rationale is that in this global economy, one association could adequately represent the interests of both domestic and import dealers. Besides, lots of dealers own both domestic and import franchises, and lots of import dealers already belong to NADA.

But the two-association format is "increasingly necessary for franchised dealers," declares the incoming chairman of the American International Automobile Dealers Association, Richard N. Kull.

Mr. Kull and his longtime business partner, Edward I. Burns, hold six GM brands and as many foreign-headquartered lines in their south New Jersey-Florida network.

But AIADA's 70-year-old chairman-elect dispels any talk of merging the two national organizations.

"AIADA has proven more effective as a lobbying association in Congress on behalf of free-trade issues," Mr. Kull argues. "We dealers with so-called `import' franchises need that kind of focus, which NADA lacks because most of its directors primarily handle domestic-headquartered brands."

Mr. Kull, president of the Burns-Kull Automotive Group, based in Marlton, NJ, is a member of NADA's charitable trust board and Project 2000 Committee.

As such he's been a close associate of his fellow New Jersey dealer, Robert J. Maguire, incoming NADA chairman, whose flagship dealerships in Bordentown and Princeton are are some 40 miles north of Mr. Kull's.

In fact, showing the closeness dealers often feel for each other as part of a highly regulated profession, Mr. Kull recalls making a $5,000 contribution to help Mr. Maguire go "over the top" on a Dealer Election Action Committee drive.

"Dick came through like the dedicated dealer he is," says Mr. Maguire. "It will be great sharing the chairmanships of the two national associations with him this year - a real tribute to New Jersey dealers."

Mr. Kull says, "AIADA is not a rubber stamp for NADA, even though we agree on franchise laws and the amendments under way to limit factory ownership."

When NADA asked AIADA this past year to support a Congressional proposal banning use of compulsory arbitration in settling dealer-automaker disputes, AIADA's board demurred.

Mr. Kull explains, "Many of our franchises call for mandatory arbitration, and the dealers concerned are not as upset by the concept. But after the efforts by the Ford Blue Oval awards plan, NADA's dealers were fearful about getting a compulsory arbitrator into the process."

DaimlerChrysler also is reportedly looking more to AIADA as a vehicle to work with in the legislative area, in view of the fact that the automaker now is controlled from Stuttgart, Germany, rather than Auburn Hills, MI.

Mr. Kull began his auto retail career as a salesman in 1958, after a stint in the U.S. Coast Guard, which gave him a lifelong yen for the sea. Ward's Dealer Business interviewed him by phone as he cruised the Atlantic Ocean with wife Mary Anne on his 74-foot-long yacht CAVU.

He joined the Burns family's Broad Street Pontiac, Newark, NJ, as general manager in the mid-1960s, and quickly built up sales volume to about 3,000 cars a year.

Becoming a partner of Edward I. Burns, now 65, Mr. Kull opened Burns Pontiac in 1970s in Oaklyn, NJ, relocating to Marlton to launch Burns Pontiac-GMC and a charter Honda dealership in 1973.

The Burns-Kull Group's expansion, recalls Group President Larry Kull, 40, Richard's oldest son, gained momentum in 1981.

Now the portfolio consists of another Marlton store - Burns Hyundai - three in Vineland, NJ, handling Chevrolet-Subaru, Toyota and Oldsmobile-Cadillac-Kia, and a pioneer Acura store in Pompano Beach, FL.

The network maintains a central office in Marlton, which is close to the Philadelphia market, and conducts manager meetings and training sessions there for its 350 employees.

"We tried a group-wide Internet web site," says Larry, "but it wasn't too effective, so we returned the e-sales program to the dealerships. We've run the gamut on sales lead web sites, including Autobytel, but right now the Internet is more a communications tool for us than a selling system."

Mr. Kull's four sons - Larry, Rick, Steve and John - are active in the dealerships, as are two sons-in-law. It's a family business that's considered well-run and highly profitable by competitors in the Garden State, tucked between the bustling New York City and Philadelphia markets.

Mr. Kull looks for a busy year when he takes office as AIADA chairman at NADA's Las Vegas convention Feb. 3-6.

He will succeed the first woman chairman of any national dealer association, Barbara K. Vidmar, of Pueblo, CO, whose husband William co-owns their Chrysler-Plymouth-Jeep, Honda, Oldsmobile and Volkswagen dealerships and also serves as NADA's Colorado director.

"More and more, AIADA and NADA members are combining traditional `domestic' with traditional `import' franchises," says Mr. Kull. "That seems to blur the differences, but there still remains the need to protect free trade.

"As yet, for example, Korea is still mostly closed to imports, though I and hundreds of AIADA and NADA members are adding Korean brands. Korea will be high on our agenda at AIADA this coming year, like anything designed to restrict free trade."