A select group of auto dealers and industry executives from Australia attended this year’s National Automobile Dealers Association (NADA) Convention & Expo held in San Francisco, California from Wednesday 21 January to Saturday 24 January.
Known as ‘The Automotive Industry Event of the Year’, the annual Convention brought together over 23,000 new car and truck Dealers from 52 countries as well as hundreds of suppliers and support staff.
The theme for 2015 was ‘Engage’ and with 120 workshops in 24 categories and 570 suppliers and vendors promoting products ranging from CRM solutions and car-wash systems, to financial services that filled the three massive Moscone Centre halls – it’s easy to see why first-time delegate Tony Foon of the Penfold Group was ‘blown away’ by the whole experience.
Foon’s comment was echoed by Peter Craik of Netresult Mobility and Tamara Stanimirov of Salefest who said they both picked-up some great ideas just walking along the show floor.
Another ‘eureka’ moment that generated a lot of buzz within the group was the dealership visit to San Francisco Honda on Thursday morning, where General Manager A.J. Patterson and Dealer Manager John Boas went ‘above and beyond’ in their presentation.
They held nothing back and revealed the dealership’s operating profit, market penetration, gross on new and used cars, as well as their online sales and marketing strategies.
In the afternoon, a number of the tour group members attended one of the Super Sessions, ‘Exceptional Experiences that Win Digital Buyers’ presented by Jared Hamilton, Driving Sales Founder and CEO who shared details of a 12-month study of US car shoppers and their buying experiences.
Interestingly, recommendations from friends and family trumped price, selection and model specifications as key factors in the buying process.
As in previous years, the workshop sessions were praised for the quality of the presenters and the range of topics covered.
On his return from NADA, I asked Barloworld Volkswagen’s Dealer Principal Dino Di Benedetto which workshop impressed him the most and without hesitation he said Tommy Gibb’s ‘Unleash the Raging Bull In Your Used Car Department’ because it gave him a sure-fire strategy that would help his team sell their most problematic cars and eliminate the ‘race to the bottom’ myth.
‘Unleash the Raging Bull’ also impressed Peter Craik, whilst Tristan van Riel of Keema Automotive Group mentioned digital marketing and advertising – particularly the benefits of banner advertising as key takeaways from the Convention.
Chris Polites, Director Automotive Carsales voted for ‘Why Your Website Must Be Responsive’ as his top pick, because it reinforced his belief that Dealers must have an understanding of their websites to effectively generate sales.
All in all, there were 120 different sessions in 24 categories covering digital marketing, fixed operations, HR, variable ops, legal and regulatory compliance and more.
Friday got off to a great start with the Deloitte Business Breakfast where in addition to the Aussie crew, 34 senior international Dealer delegates were in attendance to hear an enlightening presentation by Dale McCauley, Deloitte Motor Industry Services Partner, who gave the group a unique insight into the average consumer’s buying process.
The research showed that the average consumer spends 10 hours comparison-shopping online before even visiting a dealership. They then hit the showroom floor super-informed and sometimes more knowledgeable than the sales team about competitive brands and innovative features on the latest models.
McCauley’s advice to Dealers was that they must adopt effective online tactics to keep the buyer engaged and pre-disposed to buying from their dealership.
Saturday’s Deloitte Business Breakfast began on a positive note with an upbeat presentation on the state of the US automotive industry by NADA Chairman Forrest McConnell.
McConnell said US Dealers and suppliers were optimistic about the future, with dealerships across the country now employing more than one million people – and hiring more to meet the forecasted 16.94 million new car and light truck sales in 2015.
Later that afternoon at the Opening General Session held in the Esplanade Ballroom, Moscone Centre South, outgoing NADA Chairman Forrest McConnell delivered the NADA Chairman’s address titled ‘Who’s Your Biggest Competitor?’ to a packed audience.
This was followed by Jeb Bush’s keynote address in which he gave the audience his take on education, immigration, oil and energy, and the tax code.
Bush, who is the brother of George W. Bush, son of H.W. Bush and former governor of Florida, gave no indication on whether he would run for president in 2016, but he did reveal that he had just bought a new Ford Fusion when asked by McConnell during the Q&A after his speech.
In Saturday’s General Session, newly-crowned NADA Chairman Bill Fox delivered a spirited speech saying that ‘The best time to be a car dealer is now,’ and looking to the future…
‘We can actually shape the future of this industry – for all of us, but more importantly for the next generation of Dealers.’
Then former talk show host and automotive aficionado Jay Leno entertained the audience with his humorous one-liners about electric cars, fuel prices and cats.
All the Aussies who attended NADA 2015 overwhelmingly agreed that it was a huge success – especially the dealership tour, the Deloitte Breakfast seminars, the size and scope of the Expo and the conviviality of the hospitality functions, with many delegates confirming that they would do it all again in 2016.