Recently, Ward’s Dealer Business sat down with H. Carter Myers, the incoming chairman of the National Automobile Dealers Association. We asked him what objectives he has forthis coming year and what he considers to be the driving issues for NADA.
We also solicited his opinion on everything from the events of September 11 to convention food.What we learned is that Myers is a passionate advocate for the dealer franchise system and that he cares deeply about the survival of the dealer.
Although he’s a small town dealer from Virginia with a thick southern accent, it would be a mistake to consider him a good ol’ country boy. He’s politically astute, having been involved with Virginia state politics throughout his entire career. He also brings vast experience to the position of chairman, having served as chairman of severalcommittees.
Read the following Q & A and find out what to expect from Carter Myers and the NADA this year. Also, be sure to see our Road to NADA section in our December issue for a feature on Mr. Myers and read how he might have become a sawmill operator if it hadn’t been for his granddaddy.
WDB: Looking at NADA and your upcoming chairmanship, where would you like the organization to be when your tenure is over?
Myers: I think, most of all, it’s important to understand that NADA has a great history of serving its dealers. It’s a large organization with several capable directors. And it has a great strategy. So I would say, I plan to work with the directors and within the framework of the strategy to continue NADA’s legacy as an advocate for the dealer.
WDB: What do you think will be the driving concerns for NADA in 2002?
Myers: Definitely, the number one concern this year is the dealer/OEM relationship. With the OEM retail strategies ending and with what seems to be the right leadership at the OEM level - we have a real opportunity to improve the relationship this year.
My goal is to restore the faith the OEM once had in the dealer system as being the most effective distribution system in our country. I have a strong belief in the dealer franchise system and I want the OEM to recognize the importance of the system. But there are also several dealers who have to change their attitude and the way they do things also.
We’re at a time where we can work to strengthen our partnership with the OEM. When you think about it, four or five years ago, it was almost scary to hear people talk about having a partnership with the OEM. A lot of that has changed now – we truly can work at being partners.
Another concern is this idea the domestic automakers seem to have that overdealering is a problem. We have a lot of small dealers in this country and selling cars their livelihood. I don’t think the problem is too many dealers – if we have good product, we’ll sell it. We’ll continue to support the smaller dealers and protect their place in the industry.
One other area we need to work on is increasing our diversity. We need to increase the number of minority dealers and make sure they have the resources to succeed. But it should not be done as a mandate – instead, it should be a process. And I’m not sure it’s the OEM’s responsibility either.
You know, it was Ramsay Gillman (former NADA chairman) who took the bull by the horns a few years ago and changed the way the board was set up by requiring that minorities be on the board. He helped to bring their voice to the table – we have to make sure it’s heard.
WDB: What’s your position on theBlue Oval certification program?
Myers: I’m not against some incentivization for dealers but I am against any kind of price discrimination. Ultimately, the OEM who operates this way will have serious problems with its dealers.
WDB: Recently, Ralph Seekins, the incoming chairman for theDealer Council, told Wards that the program has changed significantly since its inception and that he felt dealers need to give the current program a chance.
Myers: Looking at the program, my thinking is that there may some adjustments made to it in 2002.
WDB: Continuing with the Blue Oval discussion, NADA surveyed Ford dealers about the program. The current NADA Chairman, Robert Maguire, told reporters in October that Ford officials weren’t willing to look at the results. Jerry Reynolds, the current Ford Dealer Council chairman, told Wards that he had asked NADA not to do the survey and Mr. Seekins also indicated that he was uncomfortable with the way it was done. Was there a rift between NADA and the Ford Dealer Council? And how closely does NADA work with the council?
Myers: Well, recently we have begun to work more closely together than what we had in the past. It is true that the two organizations had drifted apart for a while, though.
WDB: You have served as chairman for several NADA committees - Government Relations, Public Affairs, Real Estate and Information Technology to name a few. Which was your favorite?
Myers: Government relations is the area I’m most comfortable with. I’ve spent most of my career being involved in Virginia state politics and I’ve been appointed to Virginia’s Commonwealth Transportation Board by two governors and have served on the Governor’s Economic Development Council – so it’s the area that comes most naturally to me. Of course, government relations is the second highest priority for NADA.
WDB: What about the area of information technology?
Myers: That group is one of the most interesting, enthusiastic and involved groups I’ve ever worked with. It certainly is the most hard working committee.
The idea for the STAR committee (Standards in Technology for Automotive Retail) came out of a symposium held by the IT committee. The actual idea came from a comment from a lady from San Antonio.
There is a lot of work that needs to be done in this area. Right now, it’s very costly for the dealer and it hasn’t done much to increase dealer productivity. We’re still trying to determine just how to use the technology.
One area we need to look at is telematics. It doesn’t seem like the OEMs are too interested in involving the dealer in the process. The dealer has to be involved for telematics to work. There needs to be shared teamwork as well as share benefits.
WDB: Where were you on September 11?
Myers: I was at the Capital Hilton attending a legislative meeting with other dealers. Phil Brady came in and announced what had happened. It had a hell of an impact. I remember where I was when Kennedy was shot – we’ll all remember where we were on September 11.
I was scheduled to give the closing remarks. I remember the guy running the teleprompter asking me if he should begin running my speech. I looked at him and said, “I don’t that’s going to work right now.” Instead, I just dismissed the dealers so they could get home.
There wasn’t a lot of sitting around – I’ve got to say dealers are a pretty decisive bunch. They wasted no time buying vehicles so they could drive home and get back to work.
WDB: What do you think the impact will be on the retail industry?
Myers: The question for NADA is what’s the economic environment dealers will face in the near future and what can NADA do to help? I believe NADA’s role in all of this is going to be in providing training, advocacy and support for the dealer.
I’m glad to see that GM stepped forward as quickly as possible and implemented the “Keep America Rolling” program and didn’t do it as a brand management strategy. That helped spur some sales and protect some jobs in the industry.
At some point, though, those incentives are going to have to go away. Hopefully, we’ll be lucky enough to push all the way until the rest of the economy bounces back.
WDB: What was your reaction when you first heard of the National Football League’s request that NADA swap its convention date with the Super Bowl?
Myers: My first reaction was “Help!” I just didn’t see how it could be done.
For our staff to pull this off – it was Herculean! Phil Brady and his team showed the strength of NADA during the negotiations with the NFL. Those NFL guys are real pros.
WDB: Some of the talk on the radio shows revealed some disdain for car dealers.
We were taking a public relations hit from some of the sports talk shows – David Hyatt did a great job, though – he did as good a job as could’ve been done.
It’s going to be a great convention this year – thanks to the effort of the staff.
WDB: What's your favorite New Orleans dish?
Myers: I'm not sure I have a favorite dish. The food is great down there, though. I'm a runner so being at these conventions is a real challenge for me. I have to attend so many luncheons and dinners - it's easy to put those pounds back on.
WDB: Which convention site do you like best?
Myers: Well, San Francisco is the site everyone loves - it's not the best place to have a convention but everybody loves going there. All four locations are great, though. And I'm really looking forward to going down to New Orleans this year.