NEW ORLEANS — Jeff Carlson, 2016 chairman of the National Automobile Dealers Association (NADA), compared his year at the helm of the association to piloting a plane during a “catastrophic electrical failure.”

In both instances, he experienced situations where he started out on what seemed a routine path only to have outside events toss his flight plan out the window.

“You have to remain calm and make good decisions at important moments. Pilot training always dictates that you choose the right course,” he told those gathered at the opening session of the NADA Convention and Expo in New Orleans. “So you must always plan for the best, but prepare for the worst.”

Carlson praised NADA leaders and members, likening them to pilots that are under “tremendous pressure” but have trained for the unexpected and deftly manage such situations.

“You saw NADA successfully defending our customers’ right to discounted loans by preserving dealer-assisted financing,” he said. “Just like 1917, when the government tried to impose a luxury tax on cars, we stood up for our customers. It’s 2017, and again we have successfully fought off the government’s effort to end loan discounts for customers.”

In addition to holding the line against the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB)’s attempts to eliminate dealer discounting, Carlson talked about the associations successful efforts to educate legislators and the public on the negative impact of grounding all cars with open recalls, as well as show them how competition among dealerships saves customers an average of $500 per new car.

But the outgoing chairman stressed the NADA, its members and other stakeholders face more challenges as they move ahead.

“We and our OEM partners are facing some very big CAFE challenges, so we need to tell Washington to keep vehicles affordable for our customers,” he said. “Dealers have great intuition, heart and a sense of direction. This business isn’t about the destination. It’s all about the journey.”