During the 2009-10 bankruptcy restructurings of General Motors and Chrysler Corp., NADA's Dealer Attitude Survey should have been crucial, said dealer Ed Ton-kin. Instead, it was ignored.
Tonkin was NADA's vice chairman in 2009, then transitioned to chairman the next year.
"We were in the eye of the storm," said Tonkin, co-president of Ron Tonkin Family of Dealerships in Portland, Ore.
"We were spending every day on Capitol Hill, negotiating with Chrysler one day, then General Motors the next day."
Both automakers spent part of 2009 teetering on the verge of collapse before filing for federal bankruptcy protection.
Amid that, NADA's Dealer Attitude Survey landed in GM and Chrysler dealers' inboxes. Dealers took the surveys but offered little positive feedback.
"We did see a downturn in dealer attitude," Tonkin said.
Most of the dealers were so fearful of the future for the automakers that they had a negative view of the companies.
"Dealers were very worried about what was going on. They didn't even know if Chrysler and GM would continue to exist, and everybody was worried about their livelihoods," Tonkin said.
When it appeared that GM and Chrysler would survive, dealers split over the automakers' plans to terminate hundreds of dealerships as part of the restructurings.
"That was difficult for NADA to navigate because there was a contingency of dealers who thought this was a good idea to winnow down the size of the dealer body," Tonkin said. "That put us in a very difficult position."
Meanwhile, he said, the dealers' opinions fell on deaf ears at the top.
"The car czars paid no attention to the survey results," Tonkin said. "They were very difficult to work with."
President Barack Obama had appointed Steve Rattner and later Ron Bloom to lead a presidential task force charged with restructuring GM and Chrysler.
"Ron Bloom had some compassion, but Steve Rattner cared nothing about the dealers," said Tonkin. "He was a nasty little man, and I'll say that on the record."
Factor in that Chrysler and GM leaders were preoccupied with "saving their own skin" and had received so much negative reaction from dealers at that point that, for the first time in a long time, said Tonkin, the Dealer Attitude Survey had "little effect" on company leaders.