It's becoming harder to remember when the U.S. automobile industry sold more than 16 million cars and trucks in a year.
It was just three years ago, but it seems like at least a millennium. This business has gone through an awful lot in the past few years—enough to make a young man age.
Most companies have survived. There has been a lot of blood spilled, and there are a lot fewer people in this business than there were. But the business seems intact and is recovering slowly.
There is a great deal of uncertainty about next year. Many people fear that if Congress lets the Bush tax cuts expire there will be a detrimental impact on this fragile recovery.
Many people in the business seem optimistic but cautious. It's an interesting time, they will tell you.
Top executives from many U.S. suppliers were at Dave Cole's recent seminars in Traverse City, Mich. They all have cut costs like crazy and seem to be making the best of it, even with dramatically lower volume.
We're talking about a car and truck market that collapsed to a seasonally adjusted annual sales rate of 9 million units in February 2009. We have watched—almost with glee—as it slowly edges up, reaching an annualized rate of nearly 11.6 million last month.
What has impressed me is the amount of belt-tightening that has been done over the past 24 months. Every company has had to shrink its work force and cut costs dramatically.
It was not necessarily by choice but by necessity.
We'll see a slow return of jobs—a very slow return. No one seems interested in adding to overhead. Everyone seems to be far more interested in staying the course and seeing what lies ahead.
So it's time for NADA, once again, to unleash its mighty force of automobile dealers on Congress. NADA was unbelievably effective last time and could be just as effective this time. Congress needs to understand that it must renew the Bush tax cuts if this fragile recovery is going to continue.
NADA has proved that dealers are a powerful force for the automobile industry. This business is still the engine that pulls the economy, and Congress needs to get the message.
Crain is editor-in-chief of Automotive News and editorial director of Rubber & Plastics News.