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 Toyota dealer Butch Hancock of Evansville, IN.

Ward’s: Obviously 2008 was a tough year on the sales side. What were some things you’ve done to compensate?

Hancock: As far as our dealership is concerned, we felt the pinch. When there are fewer consumers in the marketplace, it will trickle down – no matter if you are a Toyota (Motor Corp.), General Motors (Corp.) or Ford (Motor Co.) store. If there are fewer people buying, obviously your share will be down also. As far as any uptick or increase in business, our service, parts and body shops did quite well in 2008.

Ward’s: Were there any facility improvements you’ve done lately? And if so, has it helped or hurt the business?

Hancock: We started our facility upgrade in 2007 and finished it in early 2008. From the standpoint of the feel-good factor, it makes all the employees and customers feel good. It also shows that we are committed to the community. Did I need the added expense? No, I didn’t. But hopefully (the economic downturn) will be short lived, and in 2009 and 2010, we’ll be prepared. This facility will take us into the next 10 years or so.

Ward’s: What are some of the top issues with your brand this year?

Hancock: One of the issues is buying practices with credit tightening up. I’m curious to see what kind of an approach (Toyota will) have. GMAC (LLC) just lowered its buying standards, and at one time they weren’t going to (let anyone buy) with less than a 700 credit score. Now they’ve lowered it to 621 – their credit requirements are easing up. I’m curious to see if Toyota will ease up some of its credit requirements for purchasing.

Ward’s: What do you want to try in 2009?

Hancock: Used cars and the fixed operations were two parts of our business that we really focused on in 2008. The problem with used cars, especially lately, it seems that the market is drying up. When you are not selling as many new cars, you don’t have the trade-ins. That’s an area we’ll really keep our eyes on, because what we’ll see this year is a severe shortage of used cars. And on the fixed end, I think folks are keeping their cars a little bit longer, which means they have to have more service and maintenance work done.

Ward’s: With a tough 2008, what do you think the future holds?

Hancock: I think (2009 is) going to be a good year. Hopefully, consumer confidence will be back. We’ll be ready with inventory (and) a new facility. I don’t agree with some of the (negative) predictions about 2009. The consumer is tired of sitting on the sideline waiting to see what’s going to happen – a lot of people want to jump into the market. Will it be a year like 2006 or 2007? No. But it will be a respectable year.

dstark@wardsauto.com