Special Coverage

NADA Convention & Exposition

ORLANDO, FL – The new chairman of the American International Automobile Dealers Assn. became a dealer 34 years ago, when he opened a used-car lot with $2,500 borrowed from his mother-in-law.

“Unless you’ve ever borrowed money from a New Jersey mother-in-law, you have no idea what pressure I was under,” says Rick DeSilva in his inaugural speech at AIADA’s 40th annual meeting during the National Automobile Dealers Assn. convention here.

He went on to become a Subaru and Hyundai dealer in Oradell and Mahwah, NJ.

“I never wanted an empire,” DeSilva says. “I just wanted to build a business I could support my family on.

“However, somewhere between setting up that first 5,000-sq.-ft. (464-sq.-m) dealership and moving into our new 2.5-acre (1-ha) store – which by New Jersey standards is like the Ponderosa – I fell in love with this industry.

“And when you fall in love with something, you have to do your best by it.”

He plans to carry on AIADA’s mission of opposing potential trade legislation that could hurt the import-car business in America. Non-domestic vehicle brands now account for 55.8% of U.S. market share.

“For more than a year, international brands have led domestic brands in market share, making us a convenient target for some politicians,” DeSilva says. “It’s more important than ever that international nameplate dealers be engaged in the political process.”

He says those dealers must remind legislators their brands represent more than a $40 billion investment in 73 plants and facilities in the U.S. and directly employ 600,000 Americans, including dealership personnel.

“Those are powerful numbers, and dealers need to shout them from the rooftop,” DeSilva says.

AIADA’s 2009 chairman, multi-brand Wisconsin dealer Russ Darrow, calls his successor, “one of the most tenacious dealers I’ve ever met.”

At the AIADA meeting, BMW dealer Tim Smith of Calabasas, CA, received a lifetime achievement award named for the late David F. Mungenast Sr., a St. Louis dealer.

“We selected Tim for this award because he embodies so many of the qualities of its namesake,” says AIADA President Cody Lusk. “His commitment to his family, integrity in his business practices and involvement in his community is unparalleled.”

sfinlay@wardsauto.com