For the first time, an executive from a publicly owned dealership chain is heading up a dealer association — a far cry from the 1990s when associations disdained the “publics.”
Jim Evans, a market president for AutoNation Inc., is the 2005 chairman of the American International Automobile Dealers Assn., representing import-brand dealers. At AutoNation, he oversees 14 luxury-brand dealerships in Florida.
He is a third-generation dealer who sold his three Mercedes-Benz stores to AutoNation in 1997. He first attended an AIADA conference while in college in 1983. His father served on AIADA's board.
The AutoNation executive downplays his dealer association “first.”
“I hope at the end of the year, people will look back and see that the goals of the private dealer and public dealer are identical,” Evans says.
Detractors have questioned AIADA's role as a separate association. They have suggested it merge with the National Automobile Dealers Assn.
“I think that attitude was more prevalent three or four years ago,” says Evans. “But automotive is the largest industry in America, so I think there is room for two dealer trade associations.”
AIADA's role as a major lobbying force on the federal level lost steam a few years ago, he says. That led to a major staff overhaul.
Marianne McInerney was hired as president. “The administration and staff we have now are more involved with grassroots programs and have more legislative contacts,” Evans says. “We have a new perspective and are seeing a wider variety of dealers getting involved.”
AIADA for the first time has field staffers visiting with individual dealers, keeping them informed and motivated.
The association focused on the presidential election in 2004 and will turn its attention to the congressional elections in 2006.
But 2005 is “a year not clouded by fundraising and election-related issues,” says Evans. “We can be on the offensive to enact legislation.”
With a president and Congress sympathetic to AIADA issues, there is a chance to accomplish more this year than ever in the association's 35-year history, he says.
Evans helped engineer a small victory: a class-action reform bill became law in February. Curtailing frivolous lawsuits is an AIADA issue. A survey indicates 72% of its dealers have been targeted by at least one “business-threatening” lawsuit.
The reform act is not broad enough, “but it is a good start,” says Evans.
High on his agenda is AIADA's ongoing effort to eliminate the so-called chicken tax. It dates to 1963 when President Lyndon Johnson responded to tariffs put on U.S. chickens exported to Europe by levying a 25% tariff on various imports, including light-duty pickup trucks.
The tariff on pickups remains. So no pickups built outside the U.S. are sold here. Access to a hot segment is denied dealers who sell import brands of auto makers without U.S. plants building pickups.
U.S./Thailand free-trade negotiations began last summer. The talks are expected to continue well into this year. At their heart is the 25% truck tariff.
Thailand is the world's second-largest producer of light trucks and one of the few markets outside North America where pickups are popular. The United Auto Workers union is intent on keeping the tariff in place, arguing that repealing it would put U.S. manufacturing jobs at risk.
The rising cost of health care is another issue critical to dealers. AIADA is backing a bill that would allow small businesses to form associated health plans across state lines.
Evans also hopes to kill the “death” tax, an estate levy which he says can especially hurt family-owned dealerships.