Attorney Will Green has served as president of the Louisiana Auto Dealers Association since 2016. Green met with Auto Dealer Today and F&I and Showroom shortly before his appearance on the Executive Panel at Industry Summit — held in New Orleans for the first time this year — to discuss the issues facing dealers, F&I providers, regulators, and consumers in his state.
Will, where are you from?
I am originally from a small town, Ruston, La., a great town up in God’s country. Apple pie and all those things. But I’ve been in Baton Rouge now for almost 10 years. I went to undergrad at a small school and law school at Mississippi College in Jackson, Miss. Then I came to Baton Rouge and met a Baton Rouge girl — my wife, Kristin — and we’re here to stay.
Did you have any idea law school would lead to the car business?
I did not, no. But my family was in the car business. My great-grandfather owned and operated dealerships he passed down to my grandfather, who passed the business on to my dad. By the time I was born, they’d sold the new car business and my dad was operating a used car dealership. My mom is in business development. So I had two parents who were great at sales, and neither one ever met a stranger.
At the end of the day, being an attorney is just selling your position to the judge, using the evidence, law, and facts. Having grown up around and learned from two great “sales” people, I thought law school seemed like a great option.
How did you end up at LADA?
I spent the first several years of my career doing workers’ compensation defense. Then I was fortunate enough to get the opportunity to start doing legislation and policy work. One thing I don’t think a lot of people realize is that LADA is actually a couple different organizations. We are the trade association for 345 car and truck dealers and about 100 associate members. But we also have a workers’ comp fund. We provide workers’ comp insurance for about 85% of our dealers. I had the workers’ comp and lobbying background, coupled with my love of the car business, so I like to think it’s a perfect fit.
Did you spend much time working at your dad’s dealership?
I did, but mostly just washing cars, going to auctions, things like that.
And you became aware of the organization.
Of course. And I knew Bob Israel, who was my predecessor, fairly well. He ran it for over 30 years. He was just so well respected, and the association was obviously a well-respected organization. I knew the association and the good work they did and all the great people and businesses they represented. I was lobbying for the Chamber of Commerce when Bob announced his retirement. I jumped at the opportunity to apply.
Must be tough, replacing a legend.
It is. And I was much younger than most of the other people who applied. The big joke when I got the job was, “So you’re the new guy. How old are you?” And it’s an easy answer to remember: Bob started at LADA in 1983, and that’s the year I was born. So he had been president of the association for as long as I had been alive. He did a great job and left big shoes to fill.
Has it gone the way you expected? Any curveballs?
One thing I didn’t fully realize — and maybe a lot of people don’t realize — is that there are so many businesses under the one roof of a dealership. You’ve got sales, service, finance and insurance, and body shops, and all the legal and HR concerns that come with them. I once heard a dealer say the only business more regulated than dealerships is health insurance. And that may be true.
I learn something new every day. I’ve had a great mentor in Bob and a fantastic board of directors to lean on.
Do you have a rotating dealer chair like NADA?
I do. Our current chair is David Fabre, an Acura, Infiniti, and Subaru dealer. Our board meets 11 times a year and David and I talk quite frequently. And we still have a lot to discuss.
What’s unique about the Louisiana dealer body?
One of the great things about Louisiana is that, of the roughly 345 dealers we have, all but a few are locally owned, independent dealers. They live in the communities they serve. They know their customers. Their kids have grown up in those communities. Some are second- and third-generation dealers. They give millions of dollars a year to charities. They are stalwarts of their communities. They are some of the biggest tax generators.
So that says a lot. And I think that goes a long way. There may not be a dealership in every single town, but they are all over the state. Having that is a tremendous asset to our state, to our customers. That I think goes a long way in helping us overcome a lot of challenges some states may have that we don’t.
That’s where the F&I office comes into play. You want to protect that asset. It’s the second most important purchase most people make.
As the head of a dealer association in a state that is prone to severe weather, are you concerned about GAP losses and how they might affect the market?
We had heavy flooding in 2016, much like Houston, and that was a huge, huge hit for a lot of our industry partners. But at same time, as a consumer, if you had GAP you were glad you did. Storms in Louisiana can pop up any minute, and not just in Southern Louisiana. And as you indicated, we definitely don’t want to see situations like that drive GAP providers out of the market. The more competition the better.
And we’re going through another challenge now, on GAP, with Military Lending Act compliance. In Louisiana, our law favors providing GAP. However, this FAQ that came down from the Defense Department, with no opportunity for feedback from our industry partners, had created problems. Suddenly military members are de facto prevented from getting GAP. The bank won’t take a security interest in that loan. We’re obviously working with NADA and my counterparts across the country to fix the issue.
Any other concerns of note?
At the beginning of the year, Peter Welch at NADA mentioned one of the biggest threats to new vehicle sales is the cost of new vehicles. And your independent franchised dealer has no control over that. That’s a concern.
I’ve been in this job almost four years. Four years ago, the average price of a new car was about $33,000. And now it’s close to $37,000. Affordability is a concern. So how do you address that?
I don’t know what the silver bullet is to that. Vehicles are safer now than they ever have been, equipped with more technology than they have ever had. People expect backup cameras and other safety features, and with that comes a cost.
So we are seeing a move toward certified used vehicles. There are a lot of great options at every new car dealership. And if you’ve got a budget, whatever that is, the dealer can work with you to get you into a vehicle.
And again, that’s where the F&I office comes into play. You want to protect that asset. It’s the second most important purchase most people make. When you buy a home, you buy insurance, warranties, protect it any way you can. Why wouldn’t you do that with the vehicle you purchase? That’s why the F&I office so important.
How do you prioritize your agenda?
I tell people all the time that my main priority is relationships. The manufacturer builds the car and helps market the car. The dealer sells the vehicle and services the vehicle and should have freedom on F&I and things like that, and they should be the one to be advocate for consumer. As long as those relationships exist and are well defined and the dealer has those freedoms, any law that we have passed or will pass that furthers those relationships is going to be meaningful and important.
Have you sown up any legislation recently?
We have. Over the last few years we have cleaned up and clarified some tax exemptions for the dealers. We have also cleaned up and clarified our direct-to-consumer sales laws. There were some parts of the law where you could see the legislative intent was there but the language was unclear.
What did you think of the recent changes to the franchise laws in California?
I think [California New Car Dealers Association President] Brian Maas did a great job with that out there. I’ve talked with him several times. We definitely want to implement a lot of things he’s done with that legislation here in Louisiana.
One provision that got a lot of press was limiting factory-ordered facility upgrades to 10-year intervals.
Yes. And we have a reasonableness standard in Louisiana, but as far as a defined year, that is something we’re going to be looking at filing. Mississippi put something into law last year, and Florida and a lot of other states have as well. We would just like to put some parameters in our law.
What’s next for the association and Louisiana dealers?
We’re constantly getting feedback from members, and we have a very active board of directors. We meet almost monthly and we’re constantly looking for feedback. And it’s a balancing act. We’re here to try to do everything we can to be sure we represent our dealers. We want to do what’s best for our customers.
Again, my goal is to see what concerns the dealers have and address those concerns in a fair and equitable manner. And I think we’re doing that and will continue to do so.