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Friday, February 17, 2006 

Vol. 2 No. 8

JD Roundtable & NADA 2006 Part I – Ford’s Mark Fields Gets It!

Definitely the largest industry event of its kind, and, indeed the one which I have attended the longest now (over 20 years), is the National Automobile Dealers Association (NADA) Annual Convention and Exposition. With more than 26,000 registered attendees (and that doesn’t count the folks that just slip into the parties), this annual event is so large there are only a few convention venues in the entire country that are big enough to host it. So every year it goes through a limited rotation, Las Vegas, San Francisco, New Orleans and this year, Orlando, Florida.

Once again despite lots of pre-convention planning, schedules, e-mails, etc., in total I didn’t catch up with everyone I intended , and went to only about half the events I was invited to. Honestly, as a dealer or a vendor, it’s all work all the time, even the parties are major networking events where lots of business gets done. Yet, once again this year, I enjoyed every minute of it and hated to see it end; this, despite developing a killer head cold by the end of it all which at least should have dampened the fun of it a bit, but didn’t really (I was born for this business, I think – not sure whether that’s good or bad, but it’s true).

Starting from the beginning…

Of course, for the last five years, I’ve always attended the JD Power Roundtable meeting that precedes the annual NADA Conference and have never been disappointed. This year, the first pre-NADA Roundtable hosted by my old friend Charlie Vogelheim, was, as expected, extra special and noteworthy. On top of the normal VIPs that speak at such things, including Governors from two different states (Bill Richardson, Governor of New Mexico and Mike Huckabee, Governor of Arkansas), Anne Belec, the President & CEO of Volvo Cars of North America and Susan Page, the Washington Bureau Chief, this Roundtable had presentations from maybe the two most visible car executives in Detroit – Mark Fields, Executive Vice President, Ford Motor Company; President, The Americas; and Mark LaNeve, GM North America Vice President, Vehicle Sales, Service and Marketing, General Motors Corp. Now, unless everything I’m reading isn’t true, these are the guys upon which the responsibility rests for the successful “turnaround” of both Ford and GM, respectively. Talk about more than a little bit of pressure. Regardless of how you feel about domestic v. foreign product, you have to be rooting for them, and each made a powerful presentation.

It really must be tough being Fields and LaNeve these days. As LaNeve said, it’s amazing how much free advice he now gets about how to do his job…from every sector, relatives, in-laws, classmates, even inmates from penitentiaries. I actually do remember hearing the same thing in a speech that Lee Iacocca gavewhen he turned around Chrysler in the early 80s (yes, I was there for the first Chrysler turnaround). [By the way, on an unrelated note I read in the trades that Mr. Iacocca just got involved with a small tech related company in the automotive retail sector…didn’t know he wanted to be involved in such a thing but if so, and he has a little extra time, I’d really wish he would have given us a call…any place, any time Lee…you are one of the few who are up there as living legends in this business; okay, I can’t resist -“if you can find a better automotive tech start-up, join it…”]

Now I have to note that a question came up from the audience to Mark Fields, after his presentation, asking about the fate of fleet sales for Ford, given the serious production cutbacks just announced under the new “Way Forward” program, and he proved in his answer, “all fleet is not created equal” that he really did know something about this side of the business… You would really be surprised how many at the very top of the food chain at the major car companies that I’ve met didn’t have a clue about fleet basics, as I noted in my Feb. 3 blog (Vol. 2 No. 6); but Fields does have a handle on it, and that’s encouraging, in my opinion.

“Tuners” Rule

If there was one surprise underlying theme to this JD Power Roundtable, it was the emphasis on the ever-growing influence and popularity of the “Tuner” set -- that is, the customization of mass produced vehicles – from buying a ground effects package for a Honda, to the $100K complete rebuilds masterminded by Chip Foose, of Foose Design, the nighttime key note speaker. His television show on TLA, “Overhaulin” where they literally steal someone’s “run of the mill” auto and completely rebuild it from the frame up, has become quite a hit since its debut in April 2004… Now that’s something I wouldn’t have predicted in Iacocca’s days at Chrysler, but the gross volume of aftermarket business has gone up consistently and dramatically for the last dozen years or so, and from a double-digit billion dollar sales base, that’s some growth record.

I wrapped up the very first full day in Orlando, after the JD Power Roundtable, at a networking party hosted by a brand new company called LaneLogic, formed by Copart and the former founder of American Auto Exchange, that has no less ambition than to become the world’s first used vehicle “market maker.” They took over one of the clubs on Disney’s Pleasure Island, then, of course, as soon as that was over, one of their affiliated partners, EFS Companies, took over another club a few doors down, so I could start a new networking process all over again. Didn’t pay for food or drink all night, but kind of wished I had as I did “pay” the next morning, when I had to get up just after 7am for a breakfast meeting.

So, took a rough tally, and for the literally my first 36 hours in Orlando, from Thurs night through Saturday morning, I’ve been attending automotive functions or programs for all but 10 hours or so of it so far…

To be continued…

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