I had a lot of time to think on my drive home from last week’s AASA Vision Conference. One thing kept coming up: We really, REALLY need to get involved in our industry’s advocacy efforts. “It’s never been more important” can be a worn-out expression, but it seems appropriate today.
Just about every speaker — in one way or another — noted legislative and regulatory matters that are either impacting the aftermarket today or likely to influence how we do business in the future. A few examples …
• MEMA President and CEO Bill Long, Auto Care Association President and CEO Bill Hanvey, and Sarah Bruno of Arent Fox discussed motorists’ freedom of choice for vehicle maintenance and repairs. Their talk touched on new “Right to Repair” efforts in Massachusetts and the Secure Vehicle Interface, to name a few hot-button issues.
• Ann Wilson, senior vice president of government affairs at MEMA, addressed tariffs and what else might be coming down the pike.
• Jay Burkhart of the Trico Group and Frank Oliveto of the Util Group discussed how tariffs are impacting their businesses and their market segments.
• Bret Jordan of Jefferies LLC, Nathan Shipley of The NPD Group and Natalie Soroka of the U.S. Department of Commerce offered some thoughts on where the U.S. economy — and the automotive aftermarket specifically — might be headed, with an emphasis on challenges and opportunities.
In one way or another, all of the presentations at Vision 2019 touched on either a level/unlevel playing field or the role government is playing (or will be playing) in how we do business. Often, the talks were accompanied by appeals to the audience to get involved.
There are so many reasons to either get active or step up your current efforts. Will President Trump eventually shut down the border to Mexico (bringing trade to a halt) or seek to force Mexico’s hand on various immigration issues by implementing tariffs on cars and parts? Who owns vehicle data? Will automakers be able to stall “Right to Repair” initiatives on cybersecurity grounds? Will local governments be willing to adapt their laws to permit mobile vehicle repair services?
We need to mobilize. We have to educate elected officials about our industry and what we do. (In some ways, I’m amazed that we still have to do this. At times, it seems like nobody understands us). The encouraging part is that — when told the aftermarket story and informed about the implications of locking us out of the repair process — politicians typically respond by saying “That’s absurd! What do you need me to do?,” according to Hanvey.
To me, it seems that politicians are already partially on our side because we present a strong pro-consumer message. And, they respond when told that drivers (their voters) could be saddled with fewer choices to get their cars serviced if their local shops are shut out of the repair process or, worse yet, left with vehicles idled because necessary repair parts are unavailable in the wake of a prolonged border shutdown. We have politicians, in a manner of speaking, right where we want them. Now, we all have to do our part. Get active.
Get active by attending either — or, better yet, both — the MEMA Legislative Summit taking place April 30 to May 1 or the Auto Care Association Legislative Summit in September. Both events present opportunities to get in-depth on issues important to the industry as well as chances to meet with your elected officials.
Also, sign up for the associations’ government affairs newsletters, such as the Auto Care Association’s Capital Report, the MEMA Washington Insider, the SEMA Action Network’s Driving Force or the Automotive Service Association’s Legislative News, to name a few. They’re wonderful sources of up-to-date and relevant information, and they’re on top of government and regulatory news better than any other industry publication, The Greensheet included!
Or, just place a call to the government affairs team from any of our industry’s associations. They are more than willing to talk and offer advice.