The first order of business for the new president of the Canadian Automobile Dealers Association (CADA) will be reconnecting with dealers and getting to know new ones.
“I know quite a few of them, and a few of them know me,” said Tim Reuss, who took over as CADA president in September. “I’m a person that likes to sit down with people, have a conversation with them and know what’s going on.”
Reuss, the CEO of Mercedes-Benz Canada from 2011-15 and most recently an automotive consultant, succeeds John White in the role at a critical time for the auto industry. As dealers navigate shifting consumer demands and adapt to new technologies, they also are sorting through a declining new-vehicle market after nearly a decade of growth.
Sales through September are down 4.1 per cent when compared with the same time a year ago, according to the Automotive News Data Center in Detroit.
Rebekah Young, director of fiscal and provincial economics at Scotiabank, said dealers, along with manufacturers, have become more pessimistic about the new-vehicle market as annual sales continue decline from their 2017 peak. She said Scotiabank data shows dealers managing “modestly tighter” inventory than in 2018, indicating an assumption by dealers that there will be fewer sales moving forward.
“In general, there is kind of more of a negative sentiment among dealers and manufacturers that we’re well into a downturn and that we’re well under the highs of 2017 in Canada with no clear path to recovery,” she said.
White said he endorsed Reuss for the role because of his experience in the industry in retail and with Mercedes globally. In addition to serving as CEO of Mercedes Canada, Reuss also led the brand’s operations in Rome and was sales director of Mercedes-Benz vans. He also spent about one year as president of the Dilawri Group of Companies, Canada’s largest dealer group.
“For me, having had that experience really gave me a couple things,” said White, who, like Reuss, was president of an automaker (Volkswagen) in Canada before joining CADA. “In this job, you know how the [automaker] thinks and you know what their next move is going to be. It helps you to understand and sometimes helps you to explain.”
Michael Wyant, COO of the Wyant Group in Saskatchewan, Alberta and British Columbia, said Reuss’ efforts as president will likely be focused on working with the federal government on zero-emission vehicle mandates and fuel economy standards.
“I don’t know that the mandate is going to change dramatically from what John White’s mandate was, but it will intensify, I think,” said Wyant, also a member of CADA’s board of directors.
Much of the CADA’s role, he added, is to “work with the government to make sure they don’t do anything catastrophic.”
Reuss said he would be meeting with provincial associations throughout the country in his early days on the job, after spending much of August working with White and others at CADA on the transition.
“For me, it’s been like drinking out of a fire hose, in a good way. I’ve done a lot of transitions in my professional career, and I would say this one is by far the most comprehensive and most in-depth.”