CADA Summit Delivers

Dealers are happy to be back in person for the much-anticipated dealer conference.

The much anticipated in-person return to the CADA Summit 2023 was embraced by a sold-out crowd of appreciative dealers and CADA members, with another large group taking part through the live stream. Also broadcast with French closed captioning for the first time, this year the event was more accessible than ever to dealers across Canada.

“It’s fast moving, with great speakers. The economists were funny and entertaining and at the same time educational. I thought it was excellent,” said Amin Tejani, Vice-President of WEINS Auto Group. “It was a more optimistic look at the future than we were probably thinking.” 

The day began with a topic always on the minds of dealers: the economic outlook. Bank of Canada’s Mario Lefebvre provided his outlook and analysis, and he was followed by Senior Economist from TD Bank Group, Thomas Feltmate. 

Feltmat said inflation is moving in the right direction, predicting that the labour market will remain strong, putting upward pressure on wages. “The labour market right now is incredibly tight,” Feltmate said, “and that is triggering a lot of wage growth”. He said there was “disinflationary pressure” that is mostly affecting goods, but on the service side of the economy, “we are seeing a lot more stickiness.” In terms of a forecast, he said: “We are sticking to this notion of a soft landing. There is nothing that is flashing recession just yet.”

Bob Armstrong, from the Chartered Institute of Logistics and Transport, educated attendees about the supply chain. His information was in-depth, and provided an overview of the different forces that affect how and when a car makes it onto a dealership lot. Trucking, railways and the marine industry all play a major role, and all of these can be affected by politics, natural and weather disasters and global events. He then explained how the auto industry is attempting to make the supply chain more resilient to outside forces.

Jason Stein interviews OEM heads

The “Dealership of Tomorrow” was the topic of Glen Mercer’s talk, and the popular automotive consultant, who does a lot of work for NADA, spoke candidly about the economy and how it was impacting auto dealers. He said that the industry is “mostly on track”, with auto retail being resilient in the face of the pandemic as well as threats from direct sales competition and new mobility models. Mercer explored each of the four “ACES”: Autonomous, Connected, Electric and Shared, and assessed which were threats or opportunities for dealers. 

He also talked about whether a vehicle subscription model will be accepted by North American consumers, and took a wait-and-see approach. In terms of the impact of EVs, Mercer said: “Our view is mixed on the impact to dealers. It really depends on the situation,” he said, adding that for some markets the EV future has already arrived, yet in others it’s still years away from being a major factor. “Electric cars have been predicted many times. Is it different this time? Yes it is.

The Dealer Satisfaction Awards were next on the agenda. The Highest Overall Satisfaction Award for OEMs with fewer than 100 dealerships was Subaru Canada, which celebrated winning this award for an astonishing ten years in a row. For Manufacturers with over 100 dealerships, the Highest Overall Satisfaction Award went to Mazda Canada for the fourth year in a row.

“I’m so proud of all our associates back at Subaru Canada and all our 95 dealers,” said Don Durst, in an interview on the green carpet at the event. “It’s amazing: 10 years in a row. When we first started with Subaru back in 2004, we were positioned 18 out of 22 OEMs. With the help of CADA, we slowly got better, we’ve got a great Dealer Advisory Board, and then 10 years ago—number one.”

The award for Most Effective OEM and Dealer Communication for Manufacturers with under 100 stores went to Porsche Canada, a first-time winner. In that category for OEMs with over 100 stores, the Most Effective OEM and Dealer Communication award was presented to Mazda Canada.

For Most Improved in Overall Satisfaction for OEMs with under 100 dealerships, Infiniti Canada took home the award, and their partner company Nissan Canada won for the Most Improved manufacturer with over 100 dealerships.

The event also featured a video tribute to the 2022 CADA Laureates, featuring a visit to their dealerships by Tim Reuss and other industry leaders to celebrate their achievement.

One of the most popular sessions was Norwegian auto dealer Sverre Helno, of Norway’s largest dealer group Møller Bil. He shared stories with dealers about Norway’s transition to electric vehicles and lessons learned along the way. It was a fascinating insight into the challenges as well as the opportunities that Norway has experienced in the last ten years, going from zero, to their present state of selling over 80 per cent electric vehicles.

Helno talked about how the dealership model is changing for electric vehicles, with dealers acting more as agents during the sales process, which is mostly online. However there is still a place for dealers, and there are business opportunities for dealers that the transition presents.

Thomas Feltmate, TD Bank

Dealers we talked with at the event kept referencing Helno’s presentation as a highlight of the day, with several saying they wish he had more time on stage. Others reached out to Canadian auto dealer for his contact information which is a good indication of the impact he had on dealers.

To make the most of this environment, the industry will need more technicians who specialize in working with high-voltage batteries and EVs, he said. These techs also need specialized equipment to make working on these cars efficient, and most of all, safe. 

In terms of lost service revenues, Helno said it hasn’t been as bad as some predicted. But dealerships can take back business in areas like windshield repairs and other services they’ve outsourced, and focus on damage repairs and collision. He also said that dealers need to look at the used car market beyond what we currently have, so that we can expect to sell the car not once, but twice.

At the end of the day, Helno stressed the biggest asset dealerships have is their people. “The best people always win,” he said.

Jérémie Bernardin took up the EV conversation after Helno answered some questions posed by Niel Hiscox, Publisher of Canadian auto dealer. Bernardin talked about the Canadian EV experience from his perspective running an EV dealership in Nova Scotia, where currently EVs only represent three per cent of auto sales. Bernardin talked about who the EV customer is, noting there’s less brand loyalty, but many companies buy EVs for marketing and advertising purposes. Customers are generally knowledgeable, and are willing to spend more time shopping.

Hiscox then moderated the dealer panel, which featured Rein Knol, Dealer Principal of Performance Hyundai and Grimsby Hyundai in Ontario, Michael Wyant, Chief Operating Officer of Wyant Group in Western Canada, Mathieu Pothier, Dealer Principal, Acura Trois-Rivières, and Bert Hickman, President and CEO, Hickman Automotive Group in Newfoundland and Labrador. They talked about the Canadian retail industry and made points about how they have built a customer-focused culture in their stores, how they empower their team members throughout the dealership, and why listening from the bottom up is key to creating a great work environment that makes customers happy.

“Live from the Green Carpet” had Canadian auto dealer correspondent Kay Layne chatting with attendees about their take-aways from the Summit, and what they’re looking forward to. She spoke with NSADA Chair John Sutherland about how he enjoyed hearing about the economic forecast, and how the Bank of Canada is determined to reduce inflation. She then interviewed Don Romano, the President & CEO of Hyundai Auto Canada Corporation about how he appreciated hearing Sverre Helno’s take on how Norway built the much needed EV infrastructure to become successful in their EV transition. Layne chatted with Vaughn Wyant, President and CEO of the Wyant Auto Group in Western Canada, who loved connecting with industry colleagues and spoke about how important CADA is to Canadian dealers.

CADA’s President and CEO Tim Reuss was joined for a panel discussion by his North American dealer association colleagues, Mike Stanton from NADA, and Guillermo Rosales Zarate, Executive President, Asociación Mexicana de Distribuidores de Automores, to chat about the state of the industry, and commonalities among the North American countries regarding how the associations help their members navigate the current political and economic environments in their countries. 

Flavio Volpe, President and CEO of the Automotive Parts Manufacturers Association (APMA) gave a guided tour of Project Arrow, an EV that has been designed, engineered and built with the help of more than 40 selected partners from Canadian suppliers and post-secondary institutions. Volpe used the success and the interest in this project to ask a very serious question: what would it take to launch a real Canadian car company? What is stopping us?

To close out the program, Jason Stein took the stage with Legendary British F1 driver Johnny Herbert to record an episode of his popular Cars & Culture with Jason Stein podcast that was broadcast on SiriusXM. Herbert shared stories and anecdotes about life on the F1 Circuit, during his career racing with legends in the sport.

All in all, the day left attendees energized, inspired and looking forward to the Summit 2024.

Don Romano, President Hyundai Canada

Related Articles
Share via
Copy link