As I chronicle the events of the year I want to point out that the day-to-day operations were brilliantly managed by Peter Welch and our excellent team at NADA. All decisions of consequence were deliberated with my very capable executive committee and staff. I believe we were quite effective in moving our agenda ahead as I represented, served and traveled of behalf of dealers in three major ways: attending auto shows, attending conventions and board meetings, and attending meetings with industry leaders. Our priorities were to preserve dealer-assisted finance, to promote and defend the dealer franchise system, to advocate for consumer affordability by not grounding all recalls, and to educate policymakers on the financial impacts of CAFE on consumers.
My year started in February with a trip the Chicago Auto Show, an event that my NADA vice chairman had previously chaired.
Due to the late NADA convention, I elected to have most of our committee meetings out of the way beforehand, which was completely different from the way it had been done before. We completed one committee meeting at NADA headquarters in Tysons, Va. This teed up a very busy March, starting with travels to the Geneva Auto Show, followed by three more committee meetings in Washington, D.C., and Tysons, Va. To end the crowded month of March we threw in the New York Auto Forum and Auto Show along with a finance committee meeting to prepare us for the final week—our convention in Las Vegas. I finally got the gavel, with much of the housekeeping already out of the way, on April 2.
April was a catch-your-breath month, with attendance at the AIADA meeting in Las Vegas, followed by another trip to Tysons for ATAE/NADA and the NADA Foundation meetings.
Then in May we traveled to Maui to speak to the Oregon Auto Dealers Association Convention, along with Paul Metrey, NADA vice president of regulatory affairs, who addressed NADA regulatory issues and priorities. Then we immediately circumnavigated the globe, arriving in Verona for Italian Dealer Days, where I represented NADA on an international panel discussion of the retail auto industry. Auto-industry consultant Charlie Vogelheim was the moderator, and there was simultaneous translation for the participants. We quickly returned for our convention committee meeting in New Orleans to finalize the details of both the 100th anniversary celebration, which I had the honor to chair, and the convention. This was one nonstop whirlwind tour.
June came in with a meeting in McCall, Idaho, with the Idaho Auto Dealers Association, where I shared our priorities, as I always did in my remarks. My wife Nancy and I then hosted the NADA Board of Directors in Aspen at the St. Regis for a very interesting meeting. We were fortunate to have Tom Doll, president of Subaru of America, address us, and he knocked it out of the park with his perspective and seven years of success. Amory Lovins, head scientist of the Rocky Mountain Institute, shared a somewhat-pessimistic view of the industry’s future. His remarks received mixed reviews, but I believed it important to have all ideas shared.
Speaking of all ideas, I returned to Washington, D.C., for an American Financial Services Association meeting that I co-chaired with David Paul from Honda Financial. The CFPB was the hot topic and its director, Richard Cordray, was present to further frustrate attendees.
July was slow for the first couple of weeks, with the normal conference calls off and on, but, as I pointed out earlier, it was an atypical year. We represented NADA at the Republican National Convention (RNC) in Cleveland with some of our staff. Fortunately, Nancy and I had attended the 2012 RNC Convention in Tampa—she was a Colorado alternate—so we somewhat knew what was going on. Trump was nominated and a shift was happening.
We left the convention early to attend the Automotive Hall of Fame in Detroit. Former Ford President and CEO Alan Mullaly was being inducted, as would be expected, but the unexpected event was the induction of Ralph Nader. Yep, the year I was NADA chairman. We also ran into an old Ford friend, Jim O’Connor. To round out a very interesting and historic month, we traveled to Philadelphia to represent dealers at the Democratic National Convention, another weeklong event.
NADA Disaster Relief in Baton Rouge
In August I attended the Montana Auto Dealers state convention and made remarks along with Andy Koblenz, NADA executive vice president of legal and regulatory affairs. Bill Underriner was honored as the Montana Time Dealer of the Year nominee. Disaster struck Baton Rouge, La., on Aug. 11, leaving twice as much water in the area as Hurricane Katrina had. Peter Welch and Annette Sykora went there immediately to survey the damage to dealers and see how the NADA Foundation’s Emergency Relief Fund could help dealership employees and their families. Dealers and state trade associations answered NADA’s call for financial support and over $ 1.5 million was raised.
Next, I traveled to São Paulo, Brazil, to speak at the Fenabrave Convention. The South Americans, who are wonderful dealers, were struggling in general with a severe economic downturn. In 2009 they had been booming while we were recovering. Now the tables were turned, and we gave a message of resilience in the face of adversity, with doses of experience added in.
In September, 30 days after the Baton Rouge flood, I flew in to see how the recovery was coming. It was shocking to see entire neighborhoods with families’ destroyed belongings on their front lawns waiting to be hauled off to the dump. This was another disaster with a capital D.
Next on the agenda was NADA’s annual Washington Conference, and with the national political conventions behind us, it looked like a Hillary Clinton runaway, according to the talking heads. Once again our Capitol Hill team put on an excellent conference, this time showcasing Rep. Kevin Brady (R-Texas), Rep. Joyce Beatty (D-Ohio) and Sen. Ben Sasse (R-Neb.), among others. Then it was off to the Paris Auto Show, where we were hosted by Phillipe Geneve, president of the CNPA. As with the South American dealers, my remarks paralleled the challenges that the European dealers were facing.
Engaging with the Autmotive Press
By October I was feeling comfortable with my role as NADA chairman when my most challenging event of the year occurred: the Detroit Automotive Press Association luncheon. It was preceded by my appearance on Autoline with John McElroy. The format of the luncheon was a 30-minute speech by me, followed by questions from the 70 or so members of the automotive press who were present. The primary topics I was pressed on were Tesla’s direct-sales efforts and the election.
The following week we hosted the fall NADA Board of Directors meeting in Rancho Mirage, Calif., where we had the first glimpse of the Glenn Mercer report, Dealership of Tomorrow: 2025. (It would not be released to the public until after the LA Auto Forum in November.) More importantly, we had the election of officers, and Mark Scarpelli was elected to succeed me. The next day my wife and I flew directly from this meeting to the Hawaii Auto Dealers Association meeting in Kauai. The following week it was off to Florida to the American Financial Services Association conference, where David Paul and I again ran the meeting and election speculation was red hot.
In November I started the month attending the Ford Dealer Attitude Survey meeting in Dearborn, Mich., with Charlie Gilchrist, chairman of the industry relations committee. All of the top management were there, with the exception of Mark Fields. I pressed the issue of small dealers’ importance in the heartland.
The next stop was Aruba for the New York State Automobile Dealers Association convention and another speech, but the mood was different. We had stayed up most of the night watching the election of Donald Trump as president of the United States. What no one thought possible had occurred, and a new shock and awe took place before our very eyes.
I had been invited to speak in China at the CADA (China Automobile Dealers Association), but it conflicted with the previous Aruba trip, so we made a video to kick off their auto show. It was straight from Aruba to LA for the Auto Forum and Show. That week concluded in Beaver Creek, Colo., at the other CADA (Colorado Auto Dealers Association) annual meeting, where I spoke but also where, more importantly, Glenn Mercer presented on the Dealership of Tomorrow. From there I went to Atlanta to attend a Cox Automotive conference and the grand opening of the James Kennedy Cox Center.
That brings us to December and the end of a very fleeting 2016. The only travel other than personal travel was back to Tysons, Va., for our annual joint finance committee and executive budget meeting.
Exciting Windup to the Year
January 2017 brought in new year with lots to do in a new political environment and uncharted waters. The first stop was the North American Auto Show in Detroit, where I attended the Diversity Awards presentation just before the show. Then it was back to Washington, D.C., and the inauguration of the 45th president of the United States, Donald Trump. We represented NADA at the Blue Grass Ball, Kentucky, the Heartland Ball, most of the center U.S. states, the Presidents Liberty Ball and the Mountain States Ball.
This was the lead-in to the 2017 NADA Convention and 100th Anniversary Celebration in New Orleans. The actual celebration kicked off on Thursday night at Mardi Gras World—site of a party for more than 5,000 people, with 10 bands, food and beverages for all, a parade, and fireworks. No description from me could do it justice. On Friday Mark Fields and I had a “fireside chat” about the industry, Jim Gaffigan humored us and Carl Swope was named Time Dealer of the Year. On Saturday I passed the gavel to Mark Scarpelli while Keith Crain, Roger Penske and Helio Castraneves shared racing history. On Sunday the Inspirational Service was launched by Sid DeBoer, Lithia Motors founder and executive chairman, sharing his history, followed by music with Mathew West, and concluded by Amy Purdy’s story of recovery from the loss of both legs and rise to a champion Paralympian and Dancing With the Stars fame. My final convention went off without a hitch and was well-attended, and my handoff to Mark went smoothly thanks to all who supported me at NADA in 2016.
Carlson is president of Glenwood Springs Ford and Glenwood Springs Subaru in Glenwood Springs, Colo., and co-owner of Summit Ford in Silverthorne, Colo.