Dealers on 'the way back' at NADA


SAN FRANCISCO, CALIF. – If dealers could take away one theme from this year’s National Automotive Dealer Association convention and expo it had to be digital mobility.

“If you are not going mobile you are getting left behind,” declared Matt Kuczka, VP of sales for DealerApp Vantage, as he manipulated his iPhone on the show floor.

It was a statement confirmed by the bevy of mobile application companies and evident from the tier one financial and software companies along with auto manufacturers that unveiled a host of mobile applications to help dealers run every facet of their business.

“This is not just for consumers who are looking for your dealership or want to check out your inventory,” he added. “This is everything including back-end operations that will help run the stores. It can all be done by phone now.”

IPads were nearly as ubiquitos as their smaller cousin the iPhone as companies like, Dealer-FX and FirstLook and Max Systems all touted the importance of occupying the digital realm to “meet the customer where they spend their time.”

This was the 94th installment of the NADA convention and expo and one that marked a noticeable change in mood and attendance figures over previous years.

“We are on the way back,” said Ed Tonkin, a multi-franchise dealer from Portland, Ore., who ended his term as NADA chairman.  The outgoing chairman spoke of projected U.S. auto sales noting that auto dealers have a renewed sense of optimism about the auto industry.

Considered by many to be a bellwether for the overall health of the auto industy, NADA reps said this year’s show drew a much larger turnout as a sagging economy and dealership closings in the U.S. and Canada negatively affected attendance in Orlando last year and New Orleans the year before.

This year drew nearly 17,000 total attendees, marking a 15 per cent increase year-over-year.

“There’s a different vibe this year,” explained Michael Collins of DealerTrack Canada. “Dealers are happy and excited. In 2009 in particular and last year to a lesser degree was pretty down… this year is different.”

Social media also stole much of the early spotlight as numerous companies exalted the need to not only have presence in the vast social realm – one presentation indicated there are dozens of social sites dealers should populate – but also the importance of managing your success and reputation.

Kate Colacelli of Dealer-FX said people spend more time on the Internet looking for information than watching TV and reading newspapers.

“Have you noticed when you Google a business or an item, you’ll see a number of stars and a link to reviews under the listing? Instead of relying on key words so much, it is those reviews that are becoming the greater focus,” she said.

“And there are a lot of posts about car dealerships out there so you have to make sure you have some type of management process in place to ensure good things are being written about your operation.”

Automakers return
Aside from all the new products and services debuting at the show, a number of manufacturers that were noticeably absent at last year’s show in Orlando had significant booth presence including Chrysler, Ford, General Motors, Kia, Mitsubishi, Subaru and Toyota.

In all, 24 dealer franchise meetings were held including an exclusive dinner for Audi dealers held at Alcatraz prison in San Francisco Bay.

Though all closed-door meetings, snippets of info emerged including Chrysler Group LLC’s ambitious sales target of 1.57 million (a potential increase of 45 per cent over 2010 figures); and General Motor’s announcement that it’s consumer finance unit will run a subprime-leasing pilot in Canada in the second quarter (more to come in subsequent issues of Canadian Autoworld).