Plan for 2021 NADA Show, but be ready to change course

Plan for 2021 NADA Show, but be ready to change course

The decision by the National Automobile Dealers Association to continue planning for the 2021 NADA Show in New Orleans in the midst of a pandemic that has already killed more than 120,000 Americans might seem counterintuitive, but it’s not.

NADA Chairman Rhett Ricart cited three main reasons the organization would continue planning for its annual trade show, and he is correct in each case. There is sufficient time to reassess in two or three months after gathering more information on the pandemic. The facilities in New Orleans are large and flexible enough to accommodate social distancing guidelines. And given the tumult in automotive retail in light of COVID-19, the ensuing recession and social unrest, “there has never been a more complicated time to run your business,” Ricart said.

As it was during the foundational fights to establish and defend franchised sales laws, NADA’s guidance and assistance are crucial as dealers attempt to navigate today’s turbulent waters. The group’s main role — dealers helping each other improve their businesses, protect their employees and customers and contribute to their local communities — has perhaps never been as important as it is today.

But with that in mind, it is vital that NADA’s planning places the physical well-being of its members and attendees ahead of all other considerations as it puts together the design and activities of its show.

Given the nature of this virus and the myriad ways it attacks — or doesn’t attack — those infected and potentially contagious, NADA’s 2021 show organizers and its participants should carefully weigh the inherent risks of proceeding with each activity in its previous form and adjust accordingly.

Consider the make meeting. For most brands — with some notable exceptions — these annual affairs have evolved into cheerleading sessions from the automaker, followed by an opportunity for disaffected dealers to push their own agendas in questions. But in an era of COVID- 19, perhaps these could best be handled digitally — and open to dealers beyond those in the room.

NADA should continue to plan for January for now, but it shouldn’t hesitate to pull the plug or reconfigure into a digital format if the pandemic’s spread does not abate. The health and safety of its members must always come first.

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