There's always a buzz when the National Automobile Dealers Association goes to glittering Las Vegas - and the 2001 show is sure to keep the excitement going.

Always the biggest attendance draw of any convention city for the NADA Convention and Exposition and the American Import Auto Dealers Association (AIADA) annual meeting. (The other rotating sites are New Orleans, San Francisco and Orlando.) Las Vegas is doubly attractive this time around because of the raft of new hotels and landmarks along the world-famous "Strip" since the franchised dealers last met there in 1996.

What's more, most dealers have enjoyed a robust year in vehicle sales and profits. That alone should ensure record turnouts for convention sessions and workshops and make meetings.

But, as at NADA's Orlando convention last January, a number of dealer-factory issues remain unresolved and could stir discussions throughout the Feb. 3-6 weekend.

These issues include the "two-tier" pricing bonus in Ford Division's Blue Oval honors program and the automaker's role in Internet sales initiatives.

Last year the hot issue was General Motors Corp.'s plan to acquire dealerships. The controversy ended in Orlando at NADA 2000 when the automaker announced it was scuttling that plan.

Ironically, GM issues for NADA 2001 are mild compared to Ford's Blue Oval and the management shakeup at DaimlerChrysler AG.

The 84th NADA Convention and Exposition also will mark a turning point for longtime NADA President Frank E. McCarthy who retires Dec. 31, 2001. It will be Mr. McCarthy's last NADA conclave after a 30-year NADA career that saw the association grow in wealth and influence even as the actual number of franchised new-car dealers declined.

A successor committee led by former NADA Chairman Paul Holloway of Exeter, NH, may introduce Mr. McCarthy's successor at Las Vegas.

The committee has been interviewing candidates all through 2000. Committee members include the outgoing and incoming chairmen, Harold B. Wells, of Smithville, NC, and Robert J. Maguire, of Bordentown, NJ, respectively, who will address the Saturday and Monday general sessions.

In a surprise for Ford dealers, the keynote speaker at the Saturday afternoon session will be the chief executive officer of General Motors, President G. Richard Wagoner, Jr.

Last year's scheduled keynoter, Ford Motor Co. Chairman William Clay Ford, Jr., cancelled his appearance in the aftermath of Ford dealers' protests over expansion plans for a dealership acquisition program.

Ford dealers had hoped for Mr. Ford or CEO and President Jacques A. Nasser would take on the 2001 keynoter role. But Mr. Wagoner agreed to the invitation early on and now a top Ford executive can't do the keynoter task until the 2002 shindig in New Orleans.

The 313,000-sq.-ft. Las Vegas Convention Center will house exhibitors from more than 400 dealership provider companies. The Orlando expo introduced more than 30 vehicle-sales-focused web sites in addition to computer portals at almost every other display. Many new dot-com exhibitors are on tap for this show.

Dealers seeking more input for their own web sites will find a technology track in the popular workshops.

Other workshop tracks cover manager training, personal and professional growth skills, succession planning, fixed operations, personnel development and vehicle sales and profitability.

Convention speakers also include Las Vegas casino and hotel mogul Steve Wynn and Detroit sports columnist and author Mitch Albom, who will lead the Sunday morning inspirational session. Mr. Albom's book, "Tuesdays with Morrie," has appeared on best-seller lists since 1999.

AIADA's 31st annual membership meeting will take place Monday, Feb. 5, at the Las Vegas Hilton hotel adjacent to the Convention Center. Outgoing AIADA Chairman Barbara K. Vidmar, of Pueblo, CO, will deliver the annual report and introduce her successor, Richard N. Kull, of Marlton, NJ.

Global trends and franchise opportunities will be paramount on the minds of dealer attendees, as domestic automakers increase their ties to overseas-headquartered brands.

GM bought equity interests in Fiat and Subaru in 2000, adding to its stakes in Saab, Isuzu and Suzuki; Ford's Premier Group announced plans to open its dealerships in top metro markets (starting early in 2001 in Denver) for its Lincoln, Jaguar, Volvo, Land Rover and Aston Martin brands, and DaimlerChrysler purchased a 34% interest in former Chrysler marketing partner Mitsubishi.

DaimlerChrysler's ouster of Chrysler Group President James P. Holden stunned dealers, many of whom expressed the hope that his successor, Dieter Zetsche, would appear at their make meetings and receptions to reassure them of continued harmonious relationships.

Mr. Holden had close ties to dealers because of his previous position as vice president of sales and marketing.

Las Vegas itself is ready for a convention as big as NADA. Its 99 hotels include the country's 10 largest. It has added a plethora of world attraction replicas to front new hotels since NADA last visited in 1996 - such as the Eiffel Tower at the Paris Hotel, Lake Como at the Bellagio and the Doge Palace at the Venetian. Las Vegas Boulevard (the "Strip") has been designated as one of the 10 most scenic highways in the land.

Gourmets will welcome news that the city of nearly 37 million visitors a year has long sought. Two Vegas restaurants - the Picasso at the Bellagio Hotel and Renoir at the Mirage hotel - achieved the town's first Mobil five-star ratings early in 2000. Only 16 other eateries nationwide rate five stars.

Shoppers can be treated to the Fashion Show mall on the Strip, where stores include Nordstrom's, Neiman Marcus, Saks Fifth Avenue and Bloomingdale's.

Each of the Strip hotels promises a top-flight stage show with celebrity entertainers for the NADA weekend, offering Broadway-style late-night entertainment to the round of factory and state association socials that will fill the hotel ballrooms.

Not to forget the lures of the (don't count `em) 150,900 slot machines and 4,801 live table games that operate in Clark County. These "win" more than $9 billion a year, as they say in the desert metropolis.

Speaking of the "desert," No. 1 dealer consolidator AutoNation has picked the name "desert" to brand all its Las Vegas dealerships and hopes to have the new signs in place before the convention.

Nevada's first dealer mall, located in Henderson 15 miles southeast of Vegas, helps an admittedly under-dealered Las Vegas serve a county population of about 1.4 million, which grows between 4,000 to 6,000 a month. Vegas has only 45 dealerships to serve a top 20 market.

So, it's fitting for an industry with so much constant "action" to convene in a city with a lot of action.

A sports journalist giving an inspirational speech at NADA's convention next month could raise some eyebrows. What could a sports journalist say that dealers would find inspirational? Well, if that sports writer's name is Mitch Albom, the answer is easy.

For the past 15 years, he's been an award-winning sports journalist and columnist for the Detroit Free Press. He's also authored several books about Detroit sports personalities.

And there are his two radio programs. The Monday night show is strictly related to sports. His nationally syndicated afternoon show is a hodgepodge of zany celebrity impersonators and actual guests ranging from the political to the Hollywood type. For Mr. Albom and his two sidekicks, Ken Brown and Rachel Nevada, the mood is generally lighthearted and not very serious.

TV viewers might recognize Mr. Albom from his several stints as a panelist on ESPN's "Sports Reporters." He's also a competent musician, singing in a band with horror writer Stephen King and humorist Dave Barry and other writers. And CBS has hired him to develop a drama about a young sportswriter.

Okay, so he's multi-talented. But inspirational? That comes from his authoring the best-selling book "Tuesdays With Morrie."

Thousands of people have claimed the book inspired them. Talk show hosts like Oprah Winfrey, Larry King and Ted Koppel have hyped it. Ms. Winfrey liked the book so much she turned it into a made-for-TV movie.

The book recounts a series of conversations over the course of 14 Tuesdays that Mr. Albom had with Morrie Schwartz, his former college professor, who was dying of ALS (also known as Lou Gehrig's Disease) at the time. Those conversations and Mr. Schwartz's wisdom and courage as he died changed Mr. Albom's life. The book, in turn, changed a lot of people's lives for the better.

It is the lessons that he learned from these conversations that Mr. Albom plans to share with dealers when he speaks at the NADA convention.

Being from the Motor City and having spoken to various dealer groups, Mr. Albom says, "I understand the dealer mentality. Dealers are driven by work, they are highly competitive and successful business people."

Such people can learn the most from Morrie, he says.

He says his encounters with Morrie "slowed" him down, and "reminded" him of the person he was before he focused so much on work.

So, amid all of the work-related meetings and parties, Mr. Albom will address the NADA crowd on Sunday, Feb. 4. He might change some lives there.

General Motors Corp. once again will conduct a single all-franchise make meeting at the NADA convention, starting at 2 p.m. Sunday, Feb. 4, in the Las Vegas Convention Center.

Until a couple of years ago, all five GM divisions had separate make meetings.

Separate sessions are planned the same day by Chrysler-Plymouth/Jeep and Dodge, as well as Ford and Lincoln Mercury.

Ford's Jaguar, Mazda and Volvo brands will hold franchise sessions on Sunday and GM's Isuzu and Saab brands on Monday. Other sessions set for Sunday include Audi, BMW, Honda, Suzuki and Volkswagen. The Monday lineup also includes Acura, Daewoo, Hyundai, Kia, Mercedes-Benz, Mitsubishi, Nissan, Subaru, Porsche and Toyota.

No separate meetings are scheduled for Infiniti or Lexus.