One Year in the Automobile Industry

By Jeffrey Bellant December 18, 2019


The more things change, the more they stay the same - and 2019 was no exception in the automotive business.

When the year began, manufacturers were adding to the list of Takata recalls, and more were just announced. The government was shut down at the start of 2019. Dealers were complaining about the struggle to get inventory and the battle still continues.

But the economy remained a bright spot with unemployment at a 50-year low, and metal is moving.

The auction world saw lots of acquisitions (see page 1) and the National Auto Auction Association finished out the year strong with its October convention. Past President Chad Bailey was praised for the passion and energy he brought to his term and will pass on a strong organization to President Laura Taylor.

NAAA received high marks from vendors and members after it held its 2019 convention in Indianapolis as an independent convention.

The event closed with Bailey honoring and bringing to the stage NAAA’s past presidents, Hall of Famers and Pioneers to the stage for a new G.O.A.T. (Greatest of All Time) award. He may have gone too far by bringing an actual goat on stage, but the audience loved it.

Jim Hallett, CEO of KAR Global, made news a couple of times at the event. As he accepted his NAAA Hall of Fame award, Hallett called for an end to running cars through lanes for safety purposes.

Independents, including Taylor and State Line’s Jeff Barber, pushed back on that idea.

During the event Hallett also brought industry media to tour the brand-new KAR Global headquarters in Carmel, Ind., a five-floor, 250,000-square-foot complex straight out of Silicon Valley. It utilizes a design featuring one set of elevators and a five-story “monumental staircase” to encourage “collisions” in those areas for employees to meet. The building has 100 fewer offices than its previous HQ, providing open spaces to produce more collaborations. It also has a gym, a medical clinic and a cafeteria offering breakfast and lunch for as low as $5. Bookshelves are scattered throughout the smoke-free facility to encourage reading and learning. Its third-floor NOC (network operations center) is a space-age, glass-encased bank of screens to monitor digital auctions and how all of the company’s systems are working together.

Manheim made news this year by converting Manheim Tucson into an all-digital sale even as it already has installed digital lanes in more than 100 sales. By the end of the year, Manheim Digital surpassed 2 million digital transactions.

Grace Huang, Manheim president, seemed to pop up everywhere, serving on panels at auto conventions to comment on industry issues. She joined members of the national media during a fall tour of Manheim Detroit to discuss Manheim’s present and future.

Manheim’s Julie Picard, vice president of industry partnerships, is now NAAA’s president-elect.

On the dealer side, the vibrant National Independent Automobile Dealers Association hit a bump in January when then-President Andy Gabler was arrested by federal authorities and later charged with bank fraud and other alleged crimes.

The association quickly rebounded as President Henry Mullinax started his term early (see Page 1) and NIADA later held its largest convention ever and its third consecutive record-setting attendance.

NIADA also held a separate National Buy-Here, Pay-Here conference in Chicago, as it continues to address the needs of dealers from the entire spectrum of the industry.

Michigan’s Otto Hahne set the mark for independents as the National Quality Dealer of the Year.

NIADA continued to strengthen its reputation in Washington through its annual National Policy Conference this fall. It even arranged a sit-down with Kathy Kraninger, director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, to present its concerns and discuss common ground.

During that week, NIADA announced it raised more than $150,000 for its PAC fund to help it lobby on behalf of independent dealers.

Despite some strong economic news, the NIADA’s Q3 Business Confidence Survey showed independents remain concerned about the idea of a downturn in 2020.

On the manufacturing side, automakers continued to face recalls and also stepped up efforts to repair them.

The industry did not avoid personal loss this year, with the passing of several veterans of the industry, including three in March.

Floorplan pioneer John Fuller, founder of Automotive Finance Corp., and later Dealer Services Corp., died in March at the age of 75.

Long-time ADESA Boston executive Joe Bellino died at the age of 81 in March. Bellino was a Navy veteran and 1960 Heisman Trophy winner.

Forrest Arnold Mendenhall, 87, started the Mendenhall Auction Co. in 1956 and later started High Point Auto Auction with his brother in 1960. In 1962, he started the Mendenhall School of Auctioneering. He was a Hall of Fame member of the National Auctioneers Association and was the first recipient of the Bernie Hart Auctioneer Award from NAAA.

Several other auction veterans also died in 2019. Jim DesRochers, 71, worked with Avis and Manheim before becoming vice president of Dealers Auto Auction of the Southwest for a decade until his retirement. He served as president of NAAA in 2005-06 and was a NAAA Pioneer Award recipient.

Sam Lafata died in April at 86. He owned APTCO Auto Auction in the Detroit area, a sale that later became Manheim Detroit. In 1992, he opened Manheim’s Metro Detroit Auto Auction. He also was instrumental in starting the Michigan Independent Automobile Dealers Association, a group which honored him for his contributions to the association.

In July, Dave Angelicchio died at the age of 67. A past NAAA president, he was chairman and CEO of the former Pittsburgh Independent Auto Auction. Angelicchio was also honored as an NAAA Pioneer. In November, Millard H. “Skip” Wolfgang, III, 72, died. Wolfgang was a co-owner of Pennsylvania Auto Dealers’ Exchange and had been an active member of the NAAA Eastern Chapter and ServNet.



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Last modified on Saturday, 25 January 2020 15:00

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