CLINTON — As car dealerships across the country face elimination, the National Automobile Dealers Association is working to slow the process.

John McEleney of Clinton, chairman of NADA, spent Wednesday and Thursday in Washington, speaking with members of Congress and the President’s task force on behalf of auto dealers.

“We brought a number of dealers to Washington... to encourage the White House to slow down the pace of the elimination of dealers,” McEleney said Friday in an interview with the Herald.

NADA represents about 92 percent of all new car dealers, both imported and domestic, McEleney indicated. The association works with manufacturers on behalf of dealers.

While the decisions surrounding dealer eliminations fall to the executive branch, McEleney said members of Congress can still have a large amount of influence.

McEleney indicated that many senators know dealers within their district, which puts it on a more personal level for them.

“Congress is sympathetic,” McEleney said.

NADA also met with the task force, which has been working to close dealerships quickly.

“We had a good dialogue with the task force. A lot of it was informative, they don’t have an automotive background,” McEleney said.

McEleney said the goal of NADA’s trip to Washington was to represent the dealers’ side of the issue.

Auto dealers are independent businesses, meaning it does not cost General Motors Corp. or Chrysler LLC to have a dealer.

“It’s not like closing a plant, it doesn’t change their costs,” McEleney said. “We are all independent dealers.”

NADA is looking to both lessen the number of dealerships closing and slow the rate.

“We’re trying to be sure that dealers are treated fairly,” said McEleney. “From the dealer’s standpoint, we’re not saying there aren’t too many dealerships. We felt that (the task force was) moving too fast to eliminate dealerships. Chrysler contacted dealerships yesterday that they were to be closed by June 9.”

More than 700 Chrysler dealerships are to be eliminated by June 9 and more than 1,000 GM dealerships will be eliminated by 2010.

McEleney said dealerships are being forced to close too soon and as a result, thousands of employees will be left jobless.

“We asked that (manufacturers) do what they can for dealers being closed to give them a ‘soft landing,’” McEleney said.

This includes reimbursement, taking care of dealership employees and giving dealers time to sell cars before closing.

Locally, McEleney indicated that Clinton will not be affected by the closings.

“No dealerships will be closed or terminated (in Clinton),” said McEleney, adding that his dealership’s two locations, one in Clinton and one in Iowa City, are fortunate not to have any issues.

Overall, McEleney’s outlook for the future of the auto industry is hopeful.

“I think it will be a good outcome,” McEleney said of the current closings. “Dealers that are remaining have a good opportunity to be successful.”

It is currently a buyer’s market, McEleney indicated, as it is when demand is down. The downturn in sales has affected all dealers, who are increasing buyer incentives.

“There is no shortage of financing and the rates are very attractive,” said McEleney.

While he does not anticipate a quick change in the market, McEleney is optimistic.

“I think it’s going to slowly get better,” McEleney said of the auto market. “The general economy is improving... I think the worst is behind us.”

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