NADA never intended to go into the publishing business. But at the request of the federal government, it began producing the NADA Used Car Guide during the Great Depression.
Over the next 82 years, the pocket-size booklet gave the dealer group its widest name recognition among the general public -- and a steady revenue stream.
In 1933, Washington wanted to bring stability to the used-car market with an unbiased source of vehicle values. The Internal Revenue Service sought a dependable pricing gauge as a basis for levying sales tax. So the government asked the then-16-year-old NADA to shoulder the task.
"Our mission was to bring accuracy and reliability to used-car pricing," says Michael Stanton Jr., who has been the guide's COO since 2006. The publication also enables greater market efficiency, he adds.
For decades, dealers mailed information about sales to NADA, where several dozen employees compiled the data -- eventually using key-punch cards -- so analysts could produce the guide. By 1946, NADA was mailing the booklet to 50,000 dealers.
Later, the information arrived via the Internet. The printed guides were NADA's only offering for about 50 years and reached a top monthly circulation of roughly 100,000.
NADA, in partnership with National Appraisal Guides, also sold guides to consumers with pricing for new and used cars, trucks, motorcycles, boats, mobile homes and RVs. Those guides were sold at gas stations, parts stores and bookshops.
Although the dealer guide provided more detailed regional information to suit local dealership operations, consumers received national averages.
NADA strove to keep its data unbiased by making the information available to all market participants, conducting spot checks of prices and consulting statisticians and economists about analysis methods. The same went for data collection.
"We've been schooled very well at NADA not to let any one dealer influence pricing," Stanton says. Guide staff reported to a dealer board but only to advise on business decisions, not prices, he notes.