Nada at NADA?

Where's the news? was a common question heard at the 2004 National Automobile Dealers Assn. convention in Las Vegas last month. Dealers, along with executives from several companies, were asking that. As far as bombshell news goes, the convention was relatively quiet this year. But there was plenty for participants to do: attend meetings, sit in on workshops, walk the show floor, network and, of course,

“Where's the news?” was a common question heard at the 2004 National Automobile Dealers Assn. convention in Las Vegas last month.

Dealers, along with executives from several companies, were asking that. As far as bombshell news goes, the convention was relatively quiet this year.

But there was plenty for participants to do: attend meetings, sit in on workshops, walk the show floor, network and, of course, gossip.

There was plenty of that. Rumors swirled that a couple of significant acquisitions would be announced. Company executives — particularly those in the technology field — came into the convention expecting to see some big name companies being acquired.

One such rumor had Who's Calling being bought. But nobody knew what buyer might come a' calling.

Who's Calling CEO John Stapleton laughed at the unsubstantiated reports. “Not true,” he tells Ward's. The company has had its share of suitors, but it has no intention of selling, says Stapleton.

As if the rumor mill weren't bad enough, one executive decided to start his own. “I'm going to buy Reynolds and Reynolds,” he joked, referring to the Information Technology giant (which, incidentally, is not for sale.).

There was an actual acquisition announced. Kelley Blue Book bought Minneapolis-based CDMdata and CDM Dealer Services, provider of online vehicle management and marketing software tools.

Beyond the gossip, dealers were looking for the newest products to help manage their businesses. There wasn't much new there, say some dealers.

But if dealers looked hard enough, there were some gems. Bill Cullen, chairman and owner of Renault Ireland, an Irish Renault distributorship, has attended NADA conventions for every year since 1969. This year his team scoured the convention floor searching for at least 10 ideas to take back home.

No.1 on his list is a double-parking lift, a product that will create more parking spaces without requiring more land. “Property in Ireland is $2 million an acre,” Cullen says.

Computerized key boxes that house and record the whereabouts of keys for all vehicles in stock made the list, too. Cullen also is taking back to Ireland several products that will help make the buying process more fun for the consumer.

For many companies, 2003 was a year to improve upon current technology and products. Much of the focus this year was on products and technology that can help dealers comply with increasing legislation. Several companies introduced Do Not Call technology to help dealers get right with recent privacy legislation.

Compliance with privacy and finance laws also were a big concern as dealers look for anything that can help them reduce their legal exposure.

Even without big news or ground-breaking products, the NADA convention is still the place. There aren't many trade shows with as much energy. The show floor was crowded, as always. Vendors use every gimmick in the book to hawk their products (neck rubs were a nice touch). Dealers and their staffs mill about looking for the some thing that can give them the much needed advantage.

And of course, there are the parties. Well, what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas, or so the TV ads go.

For the young at heart, the hottest party three years running now has been thrown by Who's Calling, making one hope the company doesn't get acquired.

The affair at MGM Grand's Studio 54 included celebrities such as former rapper M.C. Hammer and comedian Howie Mandel who chatted, joked and danced with the guests.

Although some people complained that the convention was held on Super Bowl weekend, the numerous Big Game parties provided a festive air to the convention.

A newcomer to NADA this year is Credit Union Direct Lending (CUDL), hoping to transform a relationship with dealers that in the past has been adversarial.

The group hosted a party that featured helicopter rides over the Las Vegas Strip.

That helped raise the visibility of credit unions in the auto industry, says President and CEO Tony Boutelle.

TAGS: Dealers Retail
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