NADA to Become Virtual Event Next Year

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The National Automobile Dealers Association (NADA) has decided to go digital to combat the coronavirus pandemic, canceling plans for what would have been an in-person event held at the end of January. Plans now include a virtual, mid-week conference starting on February 9th, which organizers agree will be far better than a bunch of people enjoying themselves at the Ernest N. Morial Convention Center in New Orleans over a long weekend.

Truth be told, there wasn’t much of a decision to be made. New Orleans may have decided it’s ready to open up restaurants, retail outlets, and giant shopping centers to the public but trade shows and bars have proven themselves bridge too far. While locals have accused the city of using COVID-19 as an excuse to gentrify certain areas of the city, drunks have a penchant for forgetting social-distancing rules. NADA would have brought in thousands of dealers and vendors, many of whom would be engaged in frequent bouts of close-range talking between beers. That’s to say nothing of the forbidden romantic entanglements (cheating) your author is just going to assume happens.

Attendees could then head back to their respective parts of the country with the media ready to announce NADA 2021 as a “super-spreader” type event that never should have happened. Readers would then be informed of our current death toll (around 210,000 Americans), while organizers were faulted for placing everyone in grave danger by giving them the opportunity to expose their immune systems to the worst thing to come out of China since toxic pet food and radioactive drywall.

“If the show were to be this month, we would be prohibited flat-out from doing it,” NADA CEO Peter Welch told Automotive News in an interview, adding that there was no real way to predict how the state would be looking just a few months from now.

“Our driving concern here is that the decision to have it in person is probably not going to be made by us,” he continued. “It’s going to be made by government proclamation.”

NADA Chairman Rhett Ricart has explained that the event will be using Freeman, a company it already has a stable history with, to produce the show in a virtual environment. “They have an electronic platform that looks very robust; they’re familiar with us,” added Welch.

While retention rates are assumed to be substantially lower than that of a physical show, organizers feel the digital space will draw in far more eyes overall. There are a few bugs left to be ironed how, however.

From AN:

NADA is still in discussions with Freeman and another company called Directions AV to figure out the best online approach for hosting general sessions, Welch said. Some events, such as the Time Dealer of the Year Award, will resemble traditional presentations but in a digital format.

NADA envisions franchise meetings will follow their typical 90-minute time frame, with 60 minutes of presentation and 30 minutes of question-and-answer. But automakers will have more flexibility with who presents, how and from where.

For the exhibitor portion, the digital show is being built out to resemble a convention hall. “It’s pretty slick software they have for these things,” Welch said.

Exhibitors will be able to pay for different levels, with varying capabilities and features. The price to attend the virtual show is $199 for a dealer/manager member. Before the switch, the early bird price was $390. Refunds will be issued for the difference, and full refunds will be made to those who opt out of the virtual show.

Having gotten a little dealer feedback, most seem to understand the reasoning behind the changes but aren’t overly thrilled with the new format. One store manager asking to remain anonymous suggested that having face time was invaluable and noted that most of the virtual events he attended in 2020 were dull and felt like a poor use of his time. “I believe health and safety is important but nobody is getting what they want or need from these online events,” he said.

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