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The Closers: Auto Dealers Come to D.C. to Advocate for Their Industry



Sheryll Poe, Profile Picture, 175x175

Sheryll Poe


On a daily basis, America’s franchised auto dealers have to wear many hats — entrepreneurs, bosses, salesmen, buyers, mentors, community leaders – the list goes on and on. But there’s another equally important and influential role many auto dealers may not realize that they’re perfect for — industry advocates.

More than 450 of NADA's most politically active members, including new-car and truck dealers, national board members and state association leadership traveled to the nation’s capital this week for NADA’s annual Washington Conference and Congressional fly-in.

Preparing the Next Generation of Advocates

Monday’s jam-packed conference schedule kicked off with a NextGen program focused on getting young, new attendees up-to-speed on NADA’s legislative priorities. David Shepardson, the Washington, D.C., correspondent for Reuters, provided insight into many of the same policy issues that will be front and center over the next two days, including trade and tariffs.

Next, NADA’s legislative affairs team instructed the group of 65 NextGen attendees on how to be successful advocates for the retail auto and truck industry before the attendees put their new skills to the test by holding mock Congressional meetings. William Thompson of Portland, Oregon-based truck dealership, TEC Equipment, Bobby Sight of Rob Sight Ford in Kansas City, Missouri and first-time delegate Amber L. Martin of the Martin Management Group in Bowling Green, Kentucky were in attendance and heard from Representative Garret Graves (R-La.) who urged dealers to “demand better behavior out of your members of Congress…demand productivity, demand agility and demand responsiveness.”  

NADA staff discussed the top legislative priorities facing dealers to prepare attendees for the more than 200 Capitol Hill meetings they would participate in over the course of the conference. Trade was the main policy issue that ran throughout the first day of the conference – specifically, the introduction of legislation to implement the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA), as well as President Trump’s threat to impose tariffs of up to 25% on imported automobiles and auto parts.

Trade Tops List of Priorities

The USMCA legislation was the main topic of conversation during Monday’s lunch, as Deputy U.S. Trade Representative C.J. Mahoney called on the assembled dealer advocates to bring up the agreement with their members of Congress and help get the legislative approval the deal still needs. “I know from [my upbringing in] the [farm] implement businesses: You all are closers. What we need now for USMCA is closers.”

NADA members including David Sloan of the Chicago Automotive Trade Association, Stephen Wade of Stephen Wade Auto Center in Delta, Utah and Ron Crump of Crump Reese Motors in Tremonton, Utah listened as Mahoney briefly touched on the threat of China tariffs and ongoing negotiations. But while China negotiations may be at the forefront of many auto dealers minds, the success of all future U.S. trade policy hinges on successful implementation of USMCA, Mahoney said. “We can get the trade stability you want, and we want, if we can get USMCA across the finish line.”

Other Issues Under the Legislative Gavel

Trade is not the only legislative issue dealers are talking about, NADA Executive Vice President of Legislative Affairs David Regan noted during the lunch. Dealers are also concerned about overly broad recall legislation that would halt a dealer’s ability to sell, lease, wholesale or loan used vehicles under any open recall, effectively creating a massive trade-in tax on consumers without increasing recall completion rates.

Repeal of the 12% federal excise tax (FET) on heavy-duty trucks continues to be a legislative concern. An industry coalition, Modernize the Truck Fleet (MTF), is leading the effort to repeal the 102-year-old FET and identify viable funding alternatives. The FET was a big priority when The American Truck Dealers (ATD) and the Truck Renting and Leasing Association (TRALA) hosted legislative fly-ins in June.

Learning the Latest Advocacy Tactics

Monday’s official conference business ended with two breakout sessions: NADA’s Chief Regulatory Counsel for Environment, Health and Safety led attendees through the current federal regulatory issues affecting dealerships, including finance, tax, privacy, telemarketing, trade, labor and website accessibility.

In the next room, NADA Digital Director Abram Olmstead headed up a second breakout session focused on the increased participation in state, local and even regulatory advocacy campaigns over the last two years. The session featured a live interactive demonstration of Phone2Action’s digital advocacy platform. The room of dealer advocates, which included Matt McKie of McKie Ford in Rapid City, South Dakota, sent over 100 text messages to members of Congress in just two minutes.

That rapid deployment of members helped the California New Car Dealers Association get a landmark bill passed in the state legislature earlier this year that will strengthen and protect California’s franchise system, according to Jenny Dudikoff, director of public affairs and marketing. Thanks to CNCDA’s campaign, over 300 advocates sent 9,000 messages in support of the bill and it is now awaiting the governor’s signature.

Going Undercover at the Welcome Reception

The Washington Conference isn’t just about advocacy. It’s also a chance for NADA members and staff to network and connect at exclusive events like the welcome reception held at the newly relocated and revamped International Spy Museum. NADA members enjoyed spectacular views of the U.S. Capitol and the Washington Monument from the rooftop terrace, tasted exciting international food options from around the globe and got special access to three floors of the largest collection of international espionage artifacts assembled anywhere, including James Bond’s Aston Martin DB5.

Be sure to follow all the action by searching for the hashtag #NADAWC on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook.