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Vegas Musings

The magazine’s resident legal wiz reports on what he saw and heard at the industry’s annual get-together last month, including reports of dealer investigations being conducted by the Federal Trade Commission.

March 2012, F&I and Showroom - Feature

by Tom Hudson

If hanging around Las Vegas for nearly a week is your cup of tea, you need to take in the American Financial Services Association (AFSA)’s Vehicle Finance Conference and Exposition for three or four days, then top it off by staying around for the National Automobile Dealers Association (NADA)’s annual meeting. Those events started on Feb. 1 and continued into the following week, and I was around for most of that time.

The AFSA conference was noteworthy for a couple of reasons. First, there were sightings of Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) staffers during the course of the AFSA meetings, including Richard Hackett. He’s an assistant director who will be in charge of the bureau’s unit overseeing installment credit. That’s us, folks. Also in attendance was Eric Reusch, program manager for student lending. He showed up for some valuable face time with the AFSA folks and, more specifically, the lawyers for the association’s member organizations.

Hackett reiterated the message we’ve heard from the CFPB, as well as from the Federal Trade Commission — that he and the bureau are in “information gathering mode” and that no one should expect any new regulations until the information gathering phase has been completed. 

That information complemented the interest that the FTC’s Roundtables stirred up regarding several industry practices. We’ve been waiting since the last roundtable for the FTC’s interest to result in some sort of action. Based on the comments by the FTC staff at the Roundtable events, most observers expect that the FTC will soon be prospecting for information regarding dealer practices as well.

Well, word on the show floor is that the FTC has already begun that process. Apparently, dealers across the country began receiving civil investigation demands from the FTC. From what I heard, the agency is requesting (demanding) information about dealers’ spot-delivery procedures. Unfortunately, we don’t what else the FTC may have requested since we don’t have an example of what it’s reviewing.

It’s important that you keep in mind that writing new rules and regulations are only part of the federal arsenal. The CFPB and the FTC both have formidable enforcement powers, and those enforcement powers can be exercised in response to consumer complaints. In other words, don’t assume that the FTC and the bureau will sit idle while they are out gathering facts and information.

Although they are not law-related, I have a few additional observations about the AFSA and NADA events: First, both were very well attended. There were significantly more attendees and exhibitors at both shows than last year. The atmosphere was markedly more upbeat, with a lot less doom and gloom than a couple of years ago.

And the NADA exhibit hall was bustling. Each year there seems to be a new emphasis on some part of the car business. This year, I was puzzled by the number of exhibitors offering marketing help to dealers. I don’t recall that being the case in years past. 

I was disappointed that the manufacturers didn’t bring more concept cars to the exhibit hall. Eye candy is always good.

So that’s my take on Vegas in February. If you weren’t there, plan to attend next year. There are few better places to take the pulse of our
industry.

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