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Wednesday, October 10, 2007 

Vol. 3 No. 19

Automotive Fleet & Leasing Association (AFLA) 2007 Annual Meeting and Conference

Turning Change into Opportunity - Part II

After Mike Rayburn’s unique song combinations, it was back to serious topics Thursday afternoon (September 6th), at the AFLA conference, with a presentation by Paul Traub from Chrysler, LLC (note: no longer Daimler Chrysler…), entitled “How the Changing Landscape Will Influence Fleet Sales” and followed by a presentation, “Turning the Change of Globalization into an Opportunity” by Matt Dyer, of LeasePlan International. That wrapped up a very information filled day, and, as you can tell from the titles, the topics where of the “advanced” class, big picture scope.

Down to Business

Mike Conroy turns the "President's" gavel over to Elsie Lucie

The next day started with the annual AFLA business meeting announcing election results, and I’m pleased to officially announce my old friend, Elsie Lucie, from Estee Lauder, as the incoming President of the Automotive Fleet & Leasing Association. Elsie succeeds Mark Conroy, from Union Leasing, now the outgoing President and the Past President Member of the Board of Directors. Just prior to this Elsie served as the Executive Vice President, and along with Mike Antich from Automotive Fleet Magazine, as Co-Chair of the Conference Committee. Now Mike has moved up to Executive Vice President of AFLA, and another old (Philly local) friend of mine, Tom Donato from ARI, has been elected Vice President. In addition, Deb Watkins from PHH has been elected as Secretary of the organization, joining Debbie Mize from Hallmark Cards, as Treasury. Also, elected to the Board are: Ron Shoemaker (Director, Remarketers), Brian Farrar (Director, Dealers), Kent Boskovich (Director, Lessors) and Dick Malcom (Director at Large). They join current Board Members, Pat Dougherty (Director, Allied), Jim McCarthy (Director, Fleet) and Lori Rasmussen (Director at Large), and, of course, Ed Bobit, Director Emeritus (and one of the original founders of AFLA). Congratulations one and all.

The first presentation of Friday morning was one of the best I have ever seen a “factory guy” conduct. Actually, the fact is, Ray Fisher, the presenter, is no longer with Chrysler Corporation (or Daimler Chrysler, or Chrysler, LLC, whatever the proper name is today). But Ray had been with Chrysler for such a long time, and, indeed, the last time I saw him present at AFLA he was with Chrysler, so I think, even though he is now the President of Donlen Corporation, he still qualifies as a “factory guy.” Indeed, his presentation, “Changing Gears: Factory to Fleet Management” was about this very transition, from operating as key guy in a very large multi-national company, to being the top guy in smaller organization. In truth, Ray has a natural gift for addressing a group in his now semi-famous, “that’s good/that’s bad” story time approach, and I always look forward to his presentations (“Mrs. America” sash and all).

Next on the agenda was a presentation on “Hybrid Economics” by Mike Love from Toyota Motor Sales, as timely a topic as you can find these days, and then a presentation from my friend Tom Webb, from Manheim Auctions entitled, “Forecasting Resale Value Trends” – a topic that is always timely for me… I still think the next evolution to the Maheim Used Vehicle Value Index that Tom created should be the ability to “hedge” with options or forward contracts the underlying values, like any other index driven derivative; if I can now “hedge” (fancy way of saying “bet”) on the oversupply of housing inventory in various US cities (and other arcane things) through options or futures contracts in NY (I can, it’s a new security that began trading a little while ago, it only trades 30 or so contracts a day I hear, but…), then why couldn’t a trading security be issued against Tom’s very well grounded index, one that could be used as a hedge against unforeseen pre-owned vehicle value changes. In my opinion an index like the one created by Tom lays the foundation for a sophisticated hedge/trading security to be created…I wonder why no one has, to date.

Driving as Cell Phones Don’t Mix…

The final presentation for the afternoon, and the conference, was, at least for me, a real thought provoker. Lee Whitehead, Director DCC State Program Administration of the National Safety Council, addressed the group with a presentation entitled, “Driver Distraction: The Ticking Time Bomb.” Let me run off a few statistics that Lee presented, and I think you will see why her presentation raises more than a few serious issues:

>100,000,000 drivers engage in the concurrent use of a cell phone while operating a motor vehicle
Inattention is involved in 78% of all observed crashes and 66% of all crash events (crash / near crash)
10% of drivers are using cell phones at any one time
73% talked on cell phones while driving and 19% admitted text messaging while driving
2/3 of teens admit to text messaging while driving; 16% of all cell phone users
Simulator study showed cell phone users were 5 times more likely to be in a crash
No difference in the interference from a hands-free
Relative risk of cell phone use is similar to the hazard associated with driving with a BAC of .08
Almost 80% of crashes and 65% of near misses occur within three seconds of some form of driver distraction

So I’m as guilty as the next guy of driving while using a cell phone (although I admit I can barely text message effectively even without driving, so I have never tried to text message while driving a car), but with stats like those above its time to change our ways –cell phone use + driving really is a ticking time bomb.

Golf Time, President’s Reception, and Closing Dinner

Friday afternoon was reserved for the Pete Z. Memorial Golf outing, and although I don’t play golf I still miss Pat Patrick’s presence for this, as he spearheaded this event for many, many years until his passing last year. My favorite “souvenir” of the entire conference is still the famous Pat Patrick “ditty bag” as it is as colorful as and well received as its original creator. A little background, when the memorial golf outing was just getting started, no one had the budget to create and fill a “goody bag” of sorts to give to golfers who participated. But in jumped the always dynamic and enthusiastic Pat Patrick, who, with his irresistible charm and persuasion worked the phones to get loads of donated goodies to stuff the bags with, and, as I recall, even had the bags themselves donated. The tradition has continued ever since, and this year AFLA gave out nice blue canvas bags with the Pat’s likeness and the label, “Pat Patrick’s Ditty Bag” emblazoned in white on the side, to both golfers and non-golfers alike.

In what always seems to be the fastest couple of days on record, the annual conference came to a close, with networking at the Presidents cocktail reception, and then the convention dinner, where prizes for golf and other awards were presented. Once again, the whole conference was informative and enjoyable, and, as usual, everyone hung around overtime at the final hospitality reception after the dinner (and later at the hotel bar), as no one wanted to leave the gathering of this cohesive group of fleet professionals – it’s just a great group to be around, and, for me, one of the joys of being in this business.

Some of the corporate fleet managers that attended this year's AFLA Conference

P.S. I just can’t resist mentioning this…it just so happened that the Mrs. America Pageant was just wrapping up at the Loews Ventana Canyon Resort after a week or so long stay, and that the final contest and event coincided with the first night of the AFLA Convention, so throughout the hotel the entire first day/night there was a plethora of beautiful ladies walking around the hotel in sashes identifying their respective home state. It was heard mentioned that some enterprising AFLA officials, ever on the ball, took it as a public service to spread the word and good tidings of the AFLA organization to as many “state sashes” as could be found. Also enthusiastic to give of themselves and educate the public, these AFLA chaps…

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