Putting the brakes on

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It’s easy to get pretty excited about the future.

Well, easy for me, at least.

That’s because there’s a big part of me that’s never too interested in the status quo, and is much more curious about what the future looks like, and how businesses, industries and individuals might evolve or transform.

Count me in as a big believer in the need for constant progress and innovation.

That’s why it was both sobering and thought provoking to hear Hyundai Canada President & CEO Don Romano’s keynote address at the 2017 CADEX conference in April organized by the Nova Scotia Automobile Dealers Association (NSADA).

For years now, as Romano rightly pointed out, the mainstream media, industry publications like this one, and his peers, have sounded alarm bells about the forces of change that are about to transform the auto retail industry.

Romano took the stage and set out to shred some of the most popular notions of what we can expect to see in our near future.

Far from being a crusty dinosaur, stuck in his ways and resistant to change, Romano presented a fresh and energized vision of the future that was just a bit more dialed down in terms of timelines and the scope of change.

“It sounds like the world is coming to an end,” Romano told dealers. “There is a lot more hype out in the market than there is reality. There is a lot of fear out there, but most of it is banter.”

Romano’s talk addressed issues such as ridesharing, autonomous vehicles, the electrification of the vehicle, connected vehicles and new direct vehicle sales and distribution models, such as those promoted by Tesla and Lynk & Co.

As Romano downplayed the short-term impact of each of these areas, he presented a compelling argument for why dealers need not be too worried. In talking with dealers after his speech, many said they felt a bit relieved to hear a national OEM leader present a less alarmist perspective than they are used to hearing.

As Romano downplayed the short-term impact of each of these areas, he presented a compelling argument for why dealers need not be too worried.

Perhaps the most welcome news, was Romano’s assertion that the current franchised dealer model was alive and well and he didn’t expect to see any fundamental changes in the near future. This was particularly interesting to hear since there were a lot of rumblings and eyebrows raised when Hyundai unveiled its retail strategy in Canada for its Genesis luxury brand — launched initially with no dealerships. Instead, customers take test drives and have the vehicles delivered to their homes.

Romano told dealers that the strength of their businesses are that they are local, in their communities, and that’s one of the key advantages they need to focus on.

One area they do need to improve though, is the speed and quality of the customer experience at the dealerships. He says there are dozens of ways the sales and service experience could be improved and sped up to help make the lives of customers better, more convenient, and even more fun.

“Taking care of the customer is number one. I don’t care how great a car you make,” says Romano.

Wise words indeed.

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Canadian auto dealer