Special Coverage

NADA Convention & Exposition

NEW ORLEANS – Car dealers looking for cures for a sick economy that has weakened the auto industry plan to step up their lobbying efforts in Washington and elsewhere.

Dealers intend to be more outspoken about their influence on local, state and national economies.

“The nation’s new-car dealers have already made strides in communicating the importance of the franchise network, the need for federal bridge loans and the necessity of stable credit markets, but the work must continue,” says John McEleney, an Iowa dealer named new chairman of the National Automobile Dealers Assn. at the group’s convention here.

“The next two months are critical to the future of our industry as we know it,” he says.

Dealers must be more outspoken about their role in society, McEleney says, noting sales taxes collected at dealerships total billions of dollars each year, and vehicle sales make up nearly 20% of retail spending in the U.S.

“In a 17 million (unit) sales year, it may be enough for us to share that we sponsor Little League teams or that we helped fund the new wing at the local hospital,” he says. “In a 12 million sales year, we’ve got to tell how we contribute to our community’s bottom line.

“Tell how many of our employees’ kids we helped send to college. Tell how many people were able to get health care through us. Tell how many people picked up lifelong skills – technical skills, people skills and management skills – in the time they’ve worked for us.”

Also gearing up for accelerated lobbying is the American International Automobile Dealers Assn., which is holding its annual meeting here in conjunction with the NADA convention.

“We all must do everything in our absolute power to get this economy moving, funds circulating and our auto industry back on track,” says Russ Darrow, the new AIADA chairman and a Wisconsin dealer.

“Every congressman and every U.S. senator knows one or more car dealers in their district, and they now know about our serious issues,” says Darrow, who ran unsuccessfully for the Senate in 2004.

The retail auto industry must lobby for equal access to various financing sources, including the Term Asset-Back Security Loan Facility government relief program, “because so many jobs rely on us,” he says.

A meaningful stimulus package should contain certain point-of-sale solutions, such as cash rebates. “We need to present these solutions to Congress and the new (Obama) administration for action without delay,” Darrow tells members.

Other items on AIADA’s legislative agenda include opposing potential anti-trade proposals; battling efforts to do away with secret balloting in workplace union organizing; and fighting any tax increase on small businesses.

Says Darrow: “Raising taxes on small businesses in these economic times is more than foolish. It’s malicious.”

sfinlay@wardsauto.com