A sign that things are getting back to normal for the National Automobile Dealers Assn. is the group's plan to return its focus to non-dire issues this year.

Dealers have much to look forward to in 2010 as the auto industry rebounds after nearly tanking in 2009, says Ed Tonkin, who takes office as the new chairman of NADA at its annual convention.

His predecessor, John McEleney, spent much of his time speaking to legislators in Washington and auto makers in Detroit after General Motors Co. and Chrysler Group LLC emerged from bankruptcy and slashed dealership ranks.

Dealers came close to “Armageddon” last year, says Tonkin in his inaugural speech. This year, NADA will deal with less cataclysmic issues.

Those include lobbying for tax-savings through proposed inventory-accounting changes, trying to convince Congress not to over-regulate and opposing a state-by-state patchwork of standards relating to new federal corporate average fuel economy requirements of 35.5 mpg (6.6L/100 km) by 2016.

Getting back to CAFE issues and the like indicates the worst may be over for dealers, who last year kicked into sheer survival mode.

At the 2009 NADA convention, outgoing NADA Chairman Annette Sykora asked dealers: “Do you remember when we were together around this time last year (2008)? Do you remember our biggest issue? Can you believe it was CAFE?”

Tonkin, a Portland, OR, dealer, says last year's powerful events created a “watershed moment” for auto makers. A sign of warming relations with dealers this year is that GM and NADA have made peace during a powwow at the convention.

Relations soured after NADA successfully lobbied for federal legislation mandating third-party arbitration of dealership closings. Angry about that, GM brass yanked plans for an exhibit on the NADA convention floor and scrapped its traditional franchise meeting.

GM executives initially declined to attend the convention, defying tradition. Although GM Chairman Ed Whitacre did not show up, Mark Reuss, GM's North American president, attended.

Reuss spoke here of reconciliation after a closed-door meeting with NADA officers, including dealers Carroll Smith, Stephen Wade, Alan Starling, McEleney and Tonkin.

“The reconciliation was a huge, positive development,” David Hyatt, NADA vice president-public affairs, tells Ward's. “You do your battles, you have your differences, but ultimately dealers and auto makers need to work together.”