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Tuesday, February 21, 2006 

Vol. 2 No. 9

NADA 2006 Part II – A Great Floor Show, Parties to Beat Oscar Night, and Car Guys United

What I like most at the annual National Automobile Dealers (NADA) Convention is the unique camaraderie of “car guys.” People come from all over the country and all across the world, from diverse walks of life, all races, religions, political affiliations (and both genders, as I hope you realize by now “car guy,” the way I use it, is a generic term encompasing woman and men). You see all specialities and professions - sales people, engineers, journalists, medical doctors, salvage operators, politicians, comedians… with views and perspectives as varied as they come, but, all united and focused for those few days, speaking the common language of “car guys,” steeped in every aspect of the automotive world.

Looking over the exhibition floor at a NADA convention never ceases to amaze me. The shear number of booths (I think there were over 650 ), and the elaborate nature of some of them (two floors and thousands of square feet with luxury carpets, kitchens and furnishings are not uncommon), is in a strange way, awe inspiring for an (admittedly) obsessive car guy like me. Most of Saturday and Sunday of NADA weekend (February 11-12) were devoted to walking the exposition floor. Even two days wasn’t enough time to get more than a sampling of some of the exhibitors’ new wares. The fact is, by the time I stopped at even a few of the booths of the “regulars,” such as Resource Automotive or Automotive News, and caught up with people I havn’t seen since last year’s convention, or just ran into old friends also walking the exposition floor, I burned up most of the time I had available. I tried to get to most of the newcomers but I’m not sure I succeeded. To give you an idea, I’ll just list the categories of the companies represented on the exposition floor:

  • Advertising/Marketing/Promotion
  • Aftermarket/Accessories
  • Auctions
  • Body Shop (Equipment & Finishes)
  • Check Guarantee Service
  • Computer Services
  • CRM (Customer Relationship Management)
  • CSI (Customer Satisfaction Index)
  • Design/Construction
  • Display & Signs
  • Finance and Insurance
  • Financial Planning/Consulting
  • Floor Coatings
  • Forms & Supplies
  • Frame Straightening/Repair
  • Furnishings/Storage
  • Heating
  • Insurance
  • Internet Services (a category that didn’t even exist 10 years ago and now included over 89 companies)
  • Leasing/Rental Services
  • Lifts
  • Lighting
  • Management/Training/Education
  • Motor Oils & Lubricants
  • Parts/Service
  • Protectants & Sealants
  • Publications & Media
  • Security
  • Service Contracts
  • Service Department Tools/Equipment
  • Towing Equipment
  • Vans/Recreational Vehicles
  • Vehicle Manufacturers
  • Washing, Waxing & Polishing
  • Waste Management

I’m not sure how many football fields this year’s exposition floor spanned, but let’s just say I got my exercise.

Of course the NADA convention has both celebrity presentations for the full assembly (this year there were keynotes by Tom Purves, Chairman & CEO of BMW US Holdings; Frank Abagnale, on whom the movie “Catch Me if You Can” was based; and General Colin Powell. Dozens of individual, simultaneous workshops were grouped into five different topic tracks -- Strategic Business Management and Succession Planning, Business Development, Fixed Operations, Human Resource Management and Technology. When I was a dealer I attended almost everything, but I was much younger then….

Rounding out the days were “make meetings” conducted by the manufacturers exclusively for their dealers (one for every make of car sold in the U.S.…I heard a few were quite contentious this year), and press conferences by no fewer than a dozen different companies, from Manheim Auctions, who introduced this year’s much anticipated Manheim Market Report (its annual treatise on the prior year’s used car market) to DealerTrack, a relatively new dealer finance tech service company that just completed a successful IPO last fall, to F & I Magazine’s “F & I Dealer of the Year” presentation.

Give Me the Night

Of course, once the day’s activities are over, the best part of the convention, and where most of the the real work gets done, happens at night, at the many networking parties going on in dozens of convention hotels and, this year, in virtually all of the Orlando theme parks as well. To give you a sense of how this makes Oscar Night parties pale in comparison, I thought I would list the receptions and parties I knew about (there were probably double this number, as most go unpublished and/or I don’t get invited to them…and this doesn’t count the 23 different state auto dealer associations that also threw receptions...)

Friday, Feb 10th

  • Automotive Youth Educational Systems, Inc.
  • General Motors and GMAC Financial Services
  • NADA Dealer Academy
  • Lanelogic/VB2
  • EFS

Saturday, Feb 11th

  • Bank of America
  • Edmunds.com
  • General Motors Vehicle Divisions and GMAC Financial Services
  • Mitsubishi Motors North America
  • Northwood University
  • O’Connor & Drew PC and Massachusetts State Automobile Dealers Association
  • Premier Automotive Group
  • Resource Automotive Group
  • American Suzuki Motor Corp.
  • Universal Underwriters

Sunday, Feb 12th BMW

  • CitiFinancial Auto
  • Ford Motor Company
  • Hyundai Motor America
  • Mazda North American Operations
  • Subaru of America
  • Woolsey Performance Experts Inc.
  • EFS
  • DealerTrack
  • WFS Financial
  • Protective Group

So who threw the best party? I have to say, for shear expansiveness (not to mention expense), Resource Automotive puts on a hell of show every year, and this year was no exception. Taking out the entire grand ballroom of the Orlando Ritz, Resource had, I think, four working bars carved entirely out of ice (and a few standard ones as well), at least a dozen or so food kiosks, two alternating bands (jazz & rock)…unfortunately, with so much crammed into a couple of nights, I didn’t get to stay very long, but certainly wished I had…

This year’s best party I never got to attend even though I did manage to wrangle one of the numbered, RSVP invitations was the Premier Auto Group (Volvo, Jaguar, Land Rover, Austin Martin). This year it was held at a soundstage in Unversal Studios. Small and exclusive, it’s always one of the toughest to get into, because it usually is one of, if not the, best party to attend.

This year’s most frequented party venue: Disney’s Pleasure Island…went to four different events in four different clubs over two nights there and never payed one dime for anything (admission, drinks, food, etc.). That’s got to be a record, for a Disney locale.

Next Year, Vegas

As always, as tiring as it is, it ended too soon in my opinion, and I look forward to coming back and doing it all again next year, February 3-6, in Las Vegas.

A Car Guy Story

Having landed in the Orlando airport, I made my way to the car rental counter. Just ahead of me were two guys, obviously there for NADA (as were most people coming in that day) , who looked, shall we say, “intimidating.” Bikers clearly, sporting lots of tatoos, denim and leather, dark sunglasses, long beards, kind of what you would typecast in a movie, if the theme was “Hell’s Angels” (“Three can keep a secret, if two are dead”) meet the “Outlaws” (“God forgives, the Outlaws don’t”).

A little later on, when I found my car in the caverness indoor garage that is the Orlando car rental station, I again proved what most people say about my poor sense of direction, that I can’t find my way out of parking lot…I made a few wrong turns and ended up having to delicately back out of a narrow one-way lane, with cars all around waiting for me to unclog the only passage out... Just before that though, a car was coming the opposite direction, while I directly blocked things up which forced them to (almost illegally) yield to me, even though I was the one that snarled traffic. Now that would illicit honest road range in the most drivers, even if it was your typical American family visiting the “happiest place on earth,” and I was kind of expecting the worst in general, but when I recognized in the opposite car the bikers I’d seen a little earlkier, I was down right concerned (people have been shot for less in California, I hear). I needn’t have worried. Not only were these guys not upset, but they were gladly holding up traffic for me until I extricated myself out of my mess… Car guys, one and all, united.

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