[EDITOR’S NOTE: This space would normally contain the current Chairperson’s Message, but due to a COVID-related publication delay, former Chairman Rob Sickel’s farewell column is being published shortly AFTER his term has expired. Please look for Chairwoman Judith Schumacher-Tilton’s first column in our next issue.]
When I addressed the 2019 annual meeting, live and in-person at Metedeconk National Golf Club back in September 2019 and a few weeks before I began my one-year term as Chairman, I spoke about the NJ CAR Mission and a major revamp of our communications and grassroots political action capabilities. I noted our mission is focused on three areas: advocacy, education, training and member services.
Little did I know what lay ahead for the vast majority of my tenure and how the coronavirus crisis would test NJ CAR’s capabilities across all three of these crucial aspects of our mission. I encourage you to read Jim’s column, which discusses the many ways NJ CAR proved its value throughout this challenging year.
My focus is on the challenges dealerships have overcome. When the pandemic hit New Jersey in March, Governor Murphy imposed a statewide ban on all retail activities, including new car sales. Dealership service departments were deemed essential and allowed to remain open. Remote or online motor vehicle sales activity was also permitted early on. Thanks to NJ CAR’s advocacy, by mid-May, the Governor’s executive order was modified to permit dealers to resume in-person sales.
This was a huge victory, but we still faced the challenge of how to best serve customers, many of whom were fearful of the exploding pandemic and wanted to deal with us online as much as possible. Many dealers had to quickly ramp up or expand their online capabilities to serve customers virtually. For some dealers it was a simple, albeit hectic transition. For others, there was a steep learning curve. But it seems the industry responded incredibly well.
As the pandemic stretched into the summer and the State got a better handle on its spread, we were faced with how best to communicate what we were doing to ensure a safe and healthy environment for customers and employees who wanted to come to our showrooms.
None of us knows what lies ahead, but a current resurgence of the COVID-19 virus (or a future threat) could lead to another retail shutdown. The best thing we can do is to operate safely and publicize what we are doing in hopes that, if the Governor orders another retail shutdown, dealerships will be spared.
To that end, the Coalition put together the NJ CAR Clean Certification Program. The Program educates dealership personnel about the latest sanitization recommendations and safety precautions and what needs to be done to meet existing legal and regulatory requirements. It also offers a well-designed way for us to communicate what we are doing. I encourage you to read more about the NJ CAR Clean certification program and how you can become certified later in this issue of New Jersey Auto Retailer.
While COVID-related issues dominated much of the year, the dealer community still faced its typical legal, regulatory and legislative challenges.
We were faced with a State Budget that sought to recoup some of the revenue lost in 2020 as the New Jersey economy took a massive hit due to the pandemic. The approved budget included Governor Murphy’s long-sought-after Millionaire’s Tax, which raises the tax rate on those earning more than $1 million per year from 8.97% to 10.75%.
There are two items contained in the budget that are of particular interest to dealers. First is the reinstatement of a 2.5% surcharge on the corporate business tax rate (CBT) that will likely be phased out over the next four years. The second was an increased assessment of HMO premiums, which will go from 3% to 5%.
Dealers also faced the challenge of making sure New Jersey Motor Vehicle Commission regulations properly addressed the new reality of conducting auto retailing business in an online environment. We need to ensure that online and remote sales marketing remains compliant with NJMVC Advertising Regulations and anyone engaged in selling motor vehicles meets ALL NJMVC requirements.
NJ CAR will continue working with legislators to amend the applicable statutes to better facilitate online and remote sales and eliminate the wet-signature requirement on MVC documents, which has long been a major obstacle to a seamless online motor vehicle transaction.
It goes without saying that my tenure as Chairman was not what I expected. But I am proud of what the Coalition has accomplished. I am confident that Judith Schumacher-Tilton, who took over as NJ CAR’s first Chairwoman on November 1, will successfully lead NJ CAR forward as the industry continues to adapt to challenges in 2021 and beyond. Sure, I dealt with a global pandemic during my tenure. Judith only needs to lead an industry determining what role it will play for consumers in the evolving landscape of personal mobility encompassed by electric vehicles, autonomous fleets, subscription services, factory direct sales and more. Please join me in wishing Judy the best of luck in her year as Chairwoman.