In September, the National Automobile Dealers Association named William P. Underriner as its 2012 chairman. Underriner served as vice chairman this year and remains president and co-owner of Billings, Mont.-based Underriner Motors. The magazine caught up with the new chairman as he prepared to officially take the reins this week at the NADA’s annual convention.

F&I: How do you balance your chairman duties with running your dealer group?

Underriner: I’ve got very good employees and managers that have been with me a long time. They know how I like to operate and what I like to do. As vice chairman, I was on the road a lot. So, it’ll be challenging, but I think it’s going to be a great year for my organization.

F&I: Dealers were optimistic about the business at the start of 2011. But it seems like everything that could go wrong, did.

Underriner: You’re absolutely right. Things were going well and then, all of a sudden, the tsunami hit Japan and the hurricanes hit the South. My forecast at the beginning of the year didn’t look anything like what we ended up with. The floods in Thailand also hurt, especially for import dealers. I think this next year, barring any natural and unnatural disasters, we should have a very good year.

F&I: What is your vision of the future of auto retailing?

Underriner: I think it’s going to go more toward the Internet. People don’t have the time to shop dealerships like they did five years ago. I don’t think the entire car-buying process is going to be done over the Internet, but I do think the fact finding and research will.

F&I: It seems like auto finance made some big strides in 2011. Do you agree?

Underriner: I think it’s very true that financing is getting better for dealers. In 2008 and 2009, a lot of really good people fell on some bad times. I think the OEMs and their captives realized that.

F&I: What’s your outlook for 2012?

Underriner: We’re going to see a stronger economy. I don’t think it will be a huge jump, and I don’t think unemployment is going to go down in huge numbers. But we’ll have a steady decline in unemployment and a steady increase in car sales. ... I think it will be more than 12.7 million units, but I’ll leave that prediction to our chief economist, Paul Taylor.

F&I: Are there any threats to the industry that the association is keeping its eye on?

Underriner: We’ve hired Glen Mercer, a well-known consultant in the auto industry, to analyze factory image programs. He is talking to OEMs, dealers, customers, CPAs, attorneys and businesses that do image programs for hotels and restaurants to see if putting millions of dollars into a new facility will sell one more car. The results of his study will be released at the convention.

The other big thing is CAFE 2025, which will mandate that cars get 54.5 miles per gallon. It’s going to make the cars cost a lot more money. We are very much for fuel economy, but we think there should be one federal agency that regulates fuel economy. Right now, there are three. 

F&I: What about the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau?

Underriner: We fought very hard to keep dealers out of that because dealers are not banks. The Dodd-Frank legislation includes language that preserves dealer-assisted financing, which will continue to provide more convenience, more competition and more choices for car buyers. It’s important to note that every auto loan and every auto finance source will be regulated by the CFPB.

F&I: The FTC just wrapped up the last of three roundtables it staged to learn more about auto finance. How did we fare?

Underriner: We had dealers serve on panels at all three FTC roundtables, the last of which was held in November. The NADA exposed multiple flaws in consumer advocates’ calls for additional regulations, and again demonstrated the numerous benefits that optional dealer-assisted financing provides to consumers of all credit tiers.