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Stop Chasing the “New Normal”

January 24, 2011

Being a business-to-business journalist has provided me with a unique perspective on the business, especially when I get to rub elbows with my consumer-leaning colleagues at shows like the National Automobile Dealers Association (NADA)’s annual convention. Yes, I have to report all my findings back to you, but I also get to see what the newsstand reporters are saying about our business.

Such was the case when I traveled to New Orleans for the 2009 conference. It was my third time at the show, but things were different that year. The credit crisis was in full swing, and the possibility of General Motors and Chrysler going belly-up was being floated around. And, as you know, that year turned out to be the worst year for auto sales in three decades.

The industry was trying to put on a good face at the show that year, but my colleagues from the other side of the fence sounded like they were ready to pound the last nail in the auto retail coffin with each question they posed to unsuspecting dealers. “Will you survive?” they asked.

I’ll never forget Fred Frederick’s response to one of those questions before a throng of reporters. “Listen, we, including you guys, need to get off the devastation,” said the Maryland-based Chrysler dealer. “I’m telling you, we got the people to get the job done and I think we’re going to get it done.”

He was right. Yes, the “new normal” has yet to be determined, but the end of our industry never materialized. Yes, we lost some people along the way, but we’re still here. And it took a collective effort for that to happen.

That’s why I’d like to take a moment to applaud the NADA, because it has done one heck of a job guiding us through one of the toughest periods in our history.

Speaking at the F&I Conference and Expo last September, Stephen Wade, the incoming chairman, recapped the industry’s 18-month campaign to keep the industry afloat. It started with efforts to stabilize the credit markets during the crisis and ended with the exemption it secured for dealers from the newly formed Bureau of Consumer Financial Protection.

And to think, when the NADA began mounting its campaign to get dealers excluded from the bureau’s oversight in late 2009, it had already spent more than a year educating Congress, the Obama administration, my friends in the consumer media and the public about the vital role dealers play in this country’s economy and communities.

There was the multi-front battle the association led in 2009 to expand the Federal Reserve Board’s Term Asset-Backed Securities Loan Facility to get lenders back in the game, and to get the White House and the Small Business Administration to help restore dealer financing. Then there was that day back in May 2009 when the NADA led more than 100 new-car dealers to Washington, D.C., to meet with members of Congress to slow down General Motors’ and Chrysler’s plans to cut their dealer networks.

I’ll also never forget that early-morning call I received on Saturday, March 14, 2009. It was one of my dealer contacts on the East Coast. (Yes, I do get calls  from readers on Saturday and even Sunday mornings, which doesn’t make for a happy wife.)

My contact was frantic. He told me that a New Mexico Kia dealer named Bob Cockerham was going to testify five days later before a Senate committee. He was going to try to get lawmakers to help jump-start the credit markets, and he was hoping to collect 1,000 dealer letters to support his testimony. My contact wanted me to help get the word out.

That was one instance where I didn’t hesitate to make myself part of the story, which goes against the journalistic code. But how could I not help? No industry means there’s no need for what I do. I guess you can say my decision to help was based on the realization that I, too, was part of “Main Street.”

But here’s what I’m getting at: You know the “This was their finest hour” speech Winston Churchill gave before the House of Commons in 1940? Well, I think emerging from the crisis was our own finest hour. Are there other more defining moments in our history? I’m sure there are, but, given what I witnessed the last three years, I feel safe in my assessment.

Will we ever realize our new normal? With the collective response we just put forth, does it really matter?

Comments

  1. 1. Mary Hole [ February 03, 2011 @ 07:27PM ]

    Absolutely spectacular article Greg! Thank you.

  2. 2. klay kelso [ February 08, 2011 @ 02:37PM ]

    There you go again Greg, with that possitive attitude of yours. Great article and every bit true. We tend to focus on all the challenges instead of the successes sometimes. Thanks for reminding us.

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