Special Coverage

NADA Convention & Exposition

Ward’s conducted a series of conversations with U.S. dealers in conjunction with the National Automobile Dealers Assn.’s annual convention in New Orleans to find out what’s on their minds. The following is an interview with Honda dealer Mike Rodriguez of Palm Beach, FL.

Ward’s: What type of role did used-car sales play at your dealership last year?

Rodriguez: Our new-car sales were decent until August. In September, we saw a big drop – after gas prices came down, our sales slowed down. We are concentrating more on our pre-owned side. We’ve noticed that even though our traffic is off, more people on the pre-owned side are trying to buy vehicles under $10,000. We also are concentrating more on our service department, trying to grow that business. Even though we have had normal growth there, we are doing more mailers and working on our data bank.

Ward’s: Are you concerned about survival?

Rodriguez: No, not really. We’ve done reductions like nearly every other place. Will it be enough to maneuver through these difficult times? Nobody can predict that, but I think we have a great brand, which is Honda. The auto maker has taken all the appropriate steps, like lowering their production substantially for the first quarter of this year. It comes down to the people you have at your dealership. The last few years, anybody could have sold a car – now you have to have experienced staff to get through these difficult times.

Ward’s: What are things the manufacturer needs to do for its dealers?

Rodriguez: Honda (Financial) was a little bit slow to react with the remaining ’08s. I believe they could have acted quicker – and like every other bank, they’ve slowed down the way they are buying deals. They’ve changed the way they are buying business. They need to step up a little bit more with that.

Ward’s: Anything unique you are going to try in ’09?

Rodriguez: We are changing a little bit of our advertising (philosophy). During difficult times, everybody seems to be lowering their budget, but we are looking to increase it more and change our approach. We’ve been here for 25 years, and we have been the No.1 store locally, so we are letting (consumers) know we are here for their automotive needs.

Ward’s: What vehicle do you drive each day?

Rodriguez: Obviously Honda. I drive a Pilot.

Ward’s: Read any good books lately?

Rodriguez: I’m reading a book on economics by Peter Schiff. He predicted this would happen with the economy four years ago. Everybody thought he was crazy.

Ward’s: Are you heading to New Orleans for this year’s annual convention?

Rodriguez: Yes, I’m planning to attend this year, but I haven’t for the last four years. I was out of town, or the timing didn’t work. But this year, I am planning to attend.

Ward’s: How do you think 2009 will play out?

Rodriguez: Every expert is saying we are going from 17 million to 11 million car sales, so now it’s going to be relying on your staff – having an experienced staff so you can maintain your market share and try to grow it a little bit. Experience will carry big weight.