I find it frustrating that many of our elected officials and others occupying powerful posts in our government and treasury neither seem to understand nor, with few exceptions, bother to find out, what's really going on. These officials are treating symptoms based on hearsay and have not diagnosed the illness.
Do they realize that no auto maker can be viable if their dealers are unable to sell new cars and trucks? No amount of loans or stimulus aimed at manufacturing can move the market; only dealers and their sales personnel can do that. So, what assistance can the Government provide that will let dealers get back to selling cars and trucks?
Consumer confidence, or the lack of it, is at the core of our issues. Without consumer spending, nothing happens and that's the exact position our industry finds itself in. We are bombarded with negative news and, where there aren't measurable trends in existence, new ones are introduced.
For instance, in an April 8 New York Times article headlined “State of the Economy Affects the State of Mind” examples are given about specific individuals who are suffering physically and emotionally even though they are employed.
The article notes: “As the economy worsens, people around the country have been reporting anxiety, depression and stress-related symptoms. Many are people who have not suffered significant economic losses, but worry they will or are simply reacting to the pervasive uncertainty.”
There was actually a bit of recent good news from Reuters: “A report from the U.S. Labor Department noted that initial claims for state unemployment insurance benefits fell 20,000 to a seasonally adjusted 654,000 for the week ended April 4, from an upwardly revised 674,000 the week before.”
And then there is the banking situation and the frozen credit markets. To my knowledge, 99% of franchised dealers honor the terms and conditions of their floor plan agreements.
So what is the need for this over-reaction by lenders and the federal banking regulators? I have been told by many lender personnel that new-vehicle dealer floor plan paper is a highly rated, securitized investment.
The automotive subprime market has been good for dealers, and for the most part has performed well for those buying these asset-backed securities. Yet we all know the impact this market has suffered as well as the traditional credit market.
I am not a socialist and do not want to nationalize the banks or anything else, but if captive and bank sources are not prepared to put the Term Asset-Backed Securities Loan Facility (TALF) funds to work, install a mechanism where the government temporarily is the floor-plan source and credit provider.
By removing this block, dealers could jump start the economy. Think about the times when dealers have been provided cash incentives or stair-step type programs to sell cars in volume. We all know it works.
Nothing happens until we sell a car or truck. And that's where the dealer body comes in. When dealers are again able to sell cars and trucks in volume, assembly lines will begin humming.
History shows that consumer spending is the key element to economic growth. I'm not sure our leaders understand the positive impact our industry could have on both local and national economic growth in short order.
I applaud the National Automobile Dealers Assn. and the American Import Auto Dealers Assn. for their efforts to educate government officials. I would encourage each of you to make it a point to personally contact your representatives to familiarize them with how our industry really works.
Robert P. Lamont, a former U.S. Secretary of Commerce, said: “A businessman's judgment is no better than his information.” Let's make it a point to provide some really good information to our representatives.
Tony Noland ([email protected]) is the president and CEO of NCM Associates, Inc.