Dealers played a big role in auto makers posting four straight best-ever sales years in a row, says Charley R. Smith, a dentist turned dealer who's in line as the National Automobile Dealers Association's next chairman.

“Incentives aren't the whole story,” Smith says of sales that hit 17.1 million units in 2001, 16.8 million last year and are estimated at 16.3 million-16.5 million this year.

“It's more than luck,” says Smith. “It takes a dose of marketing and a can-do attitude. Dealers add value. They give useful information, arrange financing and offer useful Internet options.”

Smith is chairman of Watson Truck & Supply, a dealership in Hobbs, NM, a small town near the Texas border. He's also the NADA's vice chairman and, as such, heir apparent to the 2004 chairmanship.

Smith has a D.D.S degree, but gave up dentistry to run the 60-year-old family dealership.

“I got into it because it was a family business but there was no family there at the time,” Smith, a franchised dealer and NADA member since 1985, says at the Conference of Automotive Remarketing.

He says he's seen a lot of changes in automotive retailing.

“Fortunately most for them have been for the better. Dealers adapted to changing business and customer needs.”

He says he'll work closely with '03 NADA Chairman Alan Starling on:

  • “Urging manufacturers to treat dealers fairly.”
  • “Urging dealers to treat their customers fairly.”
  • “Working towards all ethnic groups getting a chance to succeed in this business.”

He notes that surveys show 94% of new-car buyers say they're satisfied with their dealership.

“We're right on track, but we can all do a better job. Dealers aren't at the top of most-admired lists. We're not even close.”

That's why he, Starling and others are urging NADA members to sign and post a “code of ethics” pledging fair and honest dealings.