Auto Dealer Today caught up with 2022 Chairman Mike Alford to hear about his plans for the industry, today and over the next 12 months. - IMAGE: NADA

Auto Dealer Today caught up with 2022 Chairman Mike Alford to hear about his plans for the industry, today and over the next 12 months.

IMAGE: NADA

Q: Can you tell us about the path that led you to NADA?

ALFORD: My journey to NADA started with involvement in my state trade association, the North Carolina Automobile Dealers Association (NCADA) and 20 Groups. I chaired the North Carolina Automobile Dealers Association and also chaired the worker's comp fund for years. 

I was also involved with numerous educational opportunities through NADA and issue advocacy along the way. Over time, I got to know past leaders from North Carolina. When former NADA Director from North Carolina Dave Westcott announced his retirement from the NADA Board, I put my hat in the ring and here we are.

The opportunity to serve with fellow dealers in any capacity, whether it's dealer councils, whether it's state associations, national associations, or fixed operations boards, is incredibly rewarding. Your benefits far exceed the time and sacrifice that you make in terms of your schedule. I would encourage all dealers, of all ages and backgrounds to engage with and support your state and metro associations. They will become even more important to dealers in the next few years. 

Q: What will your main focus be when you take office in March?

ALFORD: We need to continue on this path to electrification. Dealers are “all-in” on EVs; we really need to solidify our role, as franchised dealers, as a tremendous asset and essential to the move towards more electric vehicles. As you know, there are a lot of questions in terms of the franchise system business model over the next three to five years. And it is one we’ll have to answer with mutual conversations and discovery with our legacy OEMs. Hopefully a year from now, a lot of those questions will have been answered and we’ll be on a faster path towards electrification of the fleet. I think it's an exciting journey.

We must also continue to recruit great people into our industry. Franchised dealers must recruit viable and dynamic candidates.

There are other issues as well, including in the regulatory space. In Washington, there are regulatory initiatives that dealers need to be involved with and play a big role. As chair of the Regulatory Affairs committee, I saw how very many of the issues that bubble up could impact us as dealers. On the legislative front, it is much the same – there is lot of movement that could impact dealers and we need to stay focused on items that we’ve been involved with over the past two years. Luckily NADA has a great team that advocates on our behalf every day.

I also think we, as NADA and as dealers, need to continue focusing on diversity, equity and inclusion. Belonging is central to our industry and we need to reflect our customer base. Indeed, embracing DEI is a business imperative.

And then I would say my final priority is that we all need to come together and participate, whether you're a dealership manager, general manager, dealer operator, or head of a large, publicly traded entity, we all need to engage and we need to participate. That's really important, especially during this historic time, when our industry is going to evolve and change rapidly.

Q: As the ongoing semiconductor shortage affects dealers across the country, what initiatives will NADA focus on to aid them?

ALFORD: NADA has stayed very close to the supply and demand issues and the direct impact to our industry relative to the microchip issue. One of the byproducts of the chip shortage is an increased LIFO burden, the last in-first out accounting method that 50% of our dealer body uses, as dealers had little to no inventory at the end of the year. These dealers face significantly increased and unforeseen tax burdens, which would greatly constrain working capital needed to run the business.

NADA has petitioned the Treasury for temporary regulatory relief for dealers facing LIFO recapture, and members of Congress are engaged in support of the request. Also, the Alliance for Automotive Innovation has provided key facts and urged Treasury to grant relief. Dealers aren’t asking to avoid paying the resulting taxes, but rather are asking for a temporary delay in calculating LIFO to allow the market to normalize and enable dealers to replenish inventory in the ordinary course of business.

Q: The future of EVs is on everyone’s radar, how does NADA plan to support dealers during this industry shift?

ALFORD: NADA has immersed itself in supporting dealers with the industry shift to EVs. You'll see a number of initiatives going forward in terms of training and education to help dealers. Furthermore, NADA is fully immersed in safety issues to address the hazards and risks associated with handling large, powerful batteries with a high voltage, as well as the disposal of these batteries. You will continue to see offerings that will help us as a dealer body understand the opportunities and the areas that we need to be aware of as we move forward with electrification.

Q: It is known that you are an avid supporter of the military, what types of programs have you and/or your dealerships put in place to aid this group?

ALFORD: Like any dealer, I am committed to adding value to the community I serve. So being located in a military host community, we have the opportunity to be involved with organizations that serve members of the military, veterans and their families. I personally have chaired North Carolina’s Eastern Region of the Military Growth Task Force (MGTF) and led other military supporting organizations.

Additionally, 65% of our team members are veterans. As a military host community, our entire community has a great relationship with the Marines and sailors in our market. It's part of our culture here and it's part of what makes this area special.

Q: In 2013, you were awarded the prestigious TIME Dealer of the Year recognition – What were you doing at the time and still today, that you think guided you to become the winner of this award?

I think that was an award that was based upon the collective contributions of our team and our performance as a dealership operationally and our support of our community.

Having a strong team has allowed me to participate and contribute some time and effort in other areas including philanthropy. Specifically during that time, I was leading the Military Growth Task Force that was examining a lot of issues that impact servicemen and servicewomen in this region to ensure good education, workforce opportunities, housing, and infrastructure. As a dealership, we were doing what so many dealers in this country do every day; supporting their local communities as best they could.

Q: What is the most valuable lesson you’d like to share with our dealer-readers that you’ve learned/overcome during your time as NADA Vice Chairman?

ALFORD: I feel that the NADA brand and its relevance has ascended during the pandemic. During that journey, as chair of the Regulatory Affairs committee and then as vice chairman, I was able to watch former chairmen Paul Walser and Rhett Ricart as they navigated the pandemic. There were a number of nuances working with our OEMs during this time to ensure that dealers received PPP loans, that dealers had the proper tools and support to invest more in their online retail presence, and that dealers could work through the chip crisis and supply chain issues.

It has been dynamic and fascinating, and I've been very, very proud of NADA President and CEO Mike Stanton and our team of professionals at NADA. We've always played a large role for the dealer body, and I really do think that we were truly critical during this pandemic.

Q: What advice would you like to leave our dealer-readers with as they enter a new year that is guaranteed to present them with both new opportunities and challenges?

ALFORD: I think it's going to be an extraordinarily positive year for our industry. There is a lot of pent up demand and there's some incredible products, both EV and ICE offerings, that are that are forthcoming. And thankfully most forecasts point towards an inventory recovery in the latter half of the year to pre-pandemic numbers. That is good for the consumer and for the dealer body. I think we have a great, great year ahead.

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