Why does NADA say fuel efficiency is "hot" but more MPG is not?

Today’s auto dealers have come a long way from their past, less than flattering image.  Unfortunately, National Automobile Dealers Association (NADA)—the organization that supposedly represents the interests of dealers—is actively working to roll back the car dealer persona and block the supply of fuel-efficient cars.  NADA’s campaign to oppose the proposed stronger pollution and fuel-efficiency standards—targeted to deliver 54.5 mpg for cars and light trucks by 2025—is not only bad for consumers, jobs and the environment, but also bad for auto dealers. 

So why is NADA fighting against stronger standards that will deliver even more of the fuel-efficient cars that their customers want and their dealers need? That’s exactly the perplexing question that drove leaders of eight environmental groups, including the Natural Resources Defense Council, to send a letter today to the head of NADA to drop its efforts to block the 54.5 mpg agreement that has overwhelming benefits and overwhelming support.

In NADA’s own words: “Fuel-efficient cars are hot”

NADA apparently does understand that their customers want fuel-efficient cars.  According to their own website:

New or used, fuel-efficient cars are hot. The clamor for hybrids is rising as fast as gas prices, and even some older-model hybrids are gaining new interest — the MY isn’t nearly as important as the mpg.

High-mpg cars sell themselves. Hybrids and four-cylinder models are flying out the door.

The biggest problem for dealerships, according to NADA, is not lack of demand but lack of supply of fuel-efficient cars.  Stunningly enough, NADA’s own web sites provides tips on how to sell less fuel-efficient vehicles than consumers want.

In answer to their own question “But what about dealers who don’t carry high-mpg vehicles?”, NADA advice to dealers is to sell them the less fuel-efficient vehicles they have on their lots. Their tips include:

And tout the current bonanza of rebates on larger vehicles.

Tell customers, ‘Any vehicle you buy from us, the first $1,000 of gas is on us,’  

Explain how hybrids may not work for everyone.

Missing from the list is another tip: "Write your Congressman and the President to speed the implementation of stronger standards to deliver more high MPG cars to dealers lots."

Dealers Efforts to Improve Image Undermined by Own Lobbyists

Maryland car dealer Jack Fitzgerald cares deeply about the environment.  All the electricity that powers the facilities at Fitzgerald Auto Mall come from renewable sources.  Nearly 90 percent of the solid waste generated at Fitzgerald is recycled.  And he sells a ton of hybrids.

California car dealer Mike Sullivan, known as L.A. Car Guy, is also green.  His dealerships sell more hybrids than any other in the United States.  He was the first car dealer to install electric car charging stations that are free and open to the public.  Soon, he will start selling the sleek and sexy Fisker Karma plug-in hybrid.

Fitzgerald and Sullivan are just two shining examples of a national trend: the transformation of the image of the local American car salesman from quick-buck artist—to global citizen.

If nothing else convinces NADA to drop its anti-MPG campaign, the association’s leadership should look at thriving sales at Fitzgerald Auto Mall and L.A. Car Guy. These two very successful auto dealerships show how doing positive things for the environment (living green) can put more green (U.S. dollars) into the bottom line.

It’s time for NADA to ditch the ways of yesterday’s stereotypical fast-talking car salesman.  NADA should listen to their own highly successful, fuel-efficient dealers—like Sullivan and Fitzgerald--and work with the policy makers, auto makers, environmental groups, UAW and others that support the program to speed, not impede, the supply of fuel-efficient cars.  

About the Authors

Roland Hwang

Director, Energy & Transportation program

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