Charley Smith, the new chairman of the National Automobile Dealers Assn., says auto makers see themselves as marketing experts and dealers as their agents, “but that's not how we see ourselves.”

Instead, the New Mexican dealer says in his inauguration speech, “We see ourselves as entrepreneurs, smart risk takers, American success stories.

“Manufacturers say that building cars is not a simple process. I agree. But selling cars in 2004 is not a simple process either. Factories would be very wise to let us do what we do best.”

He urges strengthening dealer-manufacturer relations through “more communication and better communication.”

Smith also urges dealers to:

  • Get to know their local political officeholders. “Every phone call you make to your representatives, every letter you write to your senators, every handshake you extend to your local officials — it all helps.

  • Foster good customer relationships through, among other things, a greater transparency of dealer-assisted financing. “We have helped provide millions of car loans to people who otherwise might not have been able to purchase a car. We will continue to provide convenient and competitive financing.”

  • Become more active in their communities. “With tighter budgets, local communities count on us more than ever.”

  • Develop partnerships with schools and tout career opportunities at dealerships. “If we don't take an active role in the education of our future workforce, who will?”

Smith recalls that, at one of the first NADA conventions he attended, an auto executive said auto makers were in it for the long term and dealers for the short term.

“I remember thinking this must have been comforting for Studebaker, Desoto and Packard dealers.

“We hope manufacturers are in it for the long haul, but let me also say many dealers have been around a long time as well.”