For more than four decades, you couldn’t think of the auto industry without thinking of Maryann Keller. Now, with her passing on June 16, NADA will always think of her fondly as the industry giant and trusted friend that she was.
NADA Executive VP for Legal and Regulatory Affairs Andy Koblenz recalls his close collaboration with Keller in 2013 when she was developing a landmark report: The Consumer Benefits of the Dealer Franchise System. At a time when the dealer distribution model came under attack from both federal regulators and Silicon Valley, NADA commissioned Keller to lay out why the franchise system was so beneficial to consumers. The product of this collaboration was a clear and comprehensive analysis that, in many ways, reinforced the value of franchised dealerships nationwide.
“Maryann Keller was an exceedingly strong intellectual,” Koblenz says. “She could read situations better than most and could always deftly separate the truth from hype. She also had a knack for finding answers and insights in unusual places. And she loved pointing out the ironic humor in the positions that some new players in the auto industry took.”
As new players and models emerged on the scene in the 2010s, Keller was able to weigh in on franchise battles because she was insightful enough to look in places that others did not. In a time when conjecture and unfounded statements ran rampant, Keller offered real market reactions that were always grounded in facts and truth.
“She had amazing foresight,” Koblenz shares. “And on a personal level, she was always gracious.”
In 2016, Keller handled her second significant engagement with NADA when she served as a witness in a critical FTC hearing that examined the structure of the consumer market. She testified as one of the third-party experts that NADA identified because of her renowned talent and stellar reputation. Koblenz helped Keller prepare for the hearing and describes her presence as “unflinching,” noting how she “stuck with the facts and the market realities that so many critics were quick to dismiss or glaze over.”
So how did a young researcher in the chemical industry become such an expert in the automotive sector?
Keller’s first experience with owning a car was in 1965, when she bought a used British sports car. But it wasn’t until years later, after working in a non-related industry, that she became the first woman to cover Detroit’s Titan automakers as an automotive research analyst. Always a steadfast researcher, Keller entrenched herself with automakers and dealers alike to truly understand one of the most important industries in the nation…and the rest is history.
Former NADA President & CEO Peter Welch recognizes an automotive giant when he sees one. “She was truly one of the best auto analysts in the business,” Welch says. “Her eye for detail and her ability to forecast trends were amazing.”
Welch served at the helm of NADA for eight years when much of Keller’s work informed the association’s own campaigns and formative steps during critical dealer issues. Her examination of the unique multistep process of vehicle purchasing and its benefits to consumers propelled NADA’s first-ever public affairs campaign on local dealerships.
The successful online campaign—mydealership.org—highlights why local dealerships matter. It provides real-world testimony on how dealerships create jobs; help save consumers money; and are local, modern, and diverse places to work. All tenets which Keller firmly believed.
“She truly believed in the dealer franchise system and frequently defended the model,” Welch says. “She will truly be missed.”
Outside of NADA, Keller herself will be remembered as a trailblazer to all those who wanted to embark in the automotive sector, regardless of previous background, experience, or gender. Early on she showed how women could be a powerhouse in an industry known to be male-dominated.
For NADA, Keller will always be remembered as one of its greatest friends. Nearly 10 years after it was first published, The Consumer Benefits is still up on NADA’s website—Keller’s analysis and proof points still stand the test of time despite the rapid evolution that now surrounds her beloved industry.
It will invariably remain a testament to the brilliant woman who wrote it and to her indomitable spirit.
The views and opinions expressed in this story are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of NADA.
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