- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 3, 2014

For the first time in 82 years, the Washington Area New Auto Dealer Association is being led by someone whose last name is not Murphy.

But the change in leadership will not alter the organization’s goals or plans, says Gerard Murphy, WANADA’s outgoing president and CEO.

“We’re going to continue to take the [Washington] Auto Show to global industry circuit heights, where it is right now,” Mr. Murphy said during a ceremony Thursday marking the association’s change in leadership. “It’s one of the top four shows in the United States, and so on the global circuit it’s one of the top, foremost shows in the world.”

Mr. Murphy’s successor is John O'Donnell, who has been serving as WANADA’s executive vice president.

Meanwhile, the U.S. auto industry this year is expecting to sell 16 million vehicles, which would exceed any annual sales figure since 2008, said Daniel Korengold, chairman of the WANADA board of directors executive committee.

However, auto dealers have cited strict government regulations as a potential problem that could sour the business relationship between dealerships and their consumers.

“One of the biggest issues is financing and the fair treatment of all customers when they finance cars,” said Mr. Korengold, who owns a dealership in Alexandria, Virginia. “The consumer finance court is trying to regulate beyond what they need to be regulating, and I think that it will be harmful to customers in the long run.

“There may be a balanced act that we’re all working through, but I think that that’s probably one of the biggest issues — not discriminating against customers and charging them higher interest rates, and making it fair and balanced,” he said.

WANADA plans to stay engaged with industry leaders and members of Congress, using its longtime access in both realms to help advance the U.S. auto industry, said Kevin Reilly, chairman of the Washington Auto Show.

During Thursday’s ceremony at the Marriott Marquis hotel in Northwest Washington, a slew of regional auto dealers, lawmakers, CEOs and even U.S. ambassadors came out to celebrate Mr. Murphy’s 14 years at the helm of WANADA, following in the footsteps of his father and grandfather.

Murphy has been instrumental in [everything],” Mr. Reilly said. “Gerry is that consistent person year after year, building relationships with manufacturers and talking about what they need from our show. He is the person that is the anchor of our show.”

Several dealers used the word “seamless” to describe the transition from Mr. Murphy, 63, to Mr. O’Donnell, 46. But Mr. Murphy won’t be leaving the organization entirely: A former attorney, he will serve as a consultant for about a year to help ease the transition.

“There’s a cultural imperative in the organization that emanates from the guy that’s been there so long,” Mr. Murphy said. “The next guy has to deal with that, so my role is to facilitate transition for my successor, John.”

WANADA members said they will continue to insist on upholding their association’s family values and loyalty to their customers.

“Government relations, of course, is kind of our bread-and-butter,” Mr. Murphy said. “But essentially, [we will be] continuing to make the auto industry what it needs to be for consumers. These dealers are very consumer proactive, and they realize that it doesn’t work for them unless it works for the customer.”