NACE ends era of traveling show on harmonious note

NACE ends era of traveling show on harmonious note

At the last International Autobody Congress and Exposition (NACE) expected to be held anywhere other than Las Vegas, attendees had an opportunity in early December to enjoy a welcome party at Universal CityWalk in Orlando, Florida, participate in 45 educational sessions, hear a keynote address from news commentator Bill O'Reilly, and browse a 176,000-sq.-ft. trade show featuring 488 companies. 

There were about 5,000 fewer of those attendees than there were back in 2000, the last time the annual event was held in Orlando, but NACE organizers - who put the number of attendees at this show at more than 24,000 - seemed pleased with the turn-out, which was about the same as the previous year. Though the five major paint companies did not exhibit at NACE for the second straight year, the number of exhibitors and size of this year's trade show were up slightly from 2002.

"We were concerned about the anticipation for next year overriding this show," Ron Pyle, president of the Automotive Service Association (ASA), which sponsors NACE, said at a press conference that included news about the show's permanent move next year to Automotive Aftermarket Industry Week in November in Las Vegas. "It was heartening to see that we had a very solid show."

Change is theme of chairman's address

NACE Chairman Vernon Crump kicked off the event's opening session with an address that focused on the need for the industry to embrace change. Crump is the body shop director for John Eagle Dealerships Collision Center, a 50-employee, 75,000-sq.-ft. facility in Dallas, Texas. In his address, he said that NACE is changing to ensure that it offers even more for those involved in all segments of the industry: independent shop owners, multiple-shop operators, dealership shop personnel, claims professionals, vendors and collision repair students and instructors.

"We're all in this together, forming a global, inter-dependent network," he said. "We need involvement from all segments of the industry to have a meaningful exchange of ideas and points of view, to connect this network. Honest, open communication is the first step toward solutions for a successful alliance."

He said some people try to avoid change because it is not always easy, particularly with the diverse viewpoints of the various segments of those involved in the collision industry.

"We're not always going to agree on everything. But positive change will come only through communication and working together," he said.

In previous years, NACE chairmen have used the address as an opportunity to share their views - or that of ASA - on key industry issues or recent events. Last year's chairman, Chris Dameron, for example, drew applause from NACE attendees when he called on the industry to work together to halt the growth of insurer-owned shops, urged shops to "be careful" about the shop networks adding "a fourth party to our already complicated business," and praised State Farm for "its changing philosophy."

Crump offered no such comments on industry issues, a move he and NACE organizers say is designed to make the event more "all-inclusive." Pyle said that unlike previous chairman, Crump was not chosen from among ASA's Collision Operations Committee, which had helped shaped previous NACE opening addresses.

"As an organization, we met over a year ago and decided it was really time to realize that we had a responsibility to the whole industry, and to relinquish some of that bully pulpit and open it up to a broader spectrum of industry representation," Pyle said.

He said Crump would serve as chairman again next year, but that not limiting the choice of chairman from among the ASA committee would broaden the pool of candidates, which now could even include an insurance company representative.

His comments echoed those of Galen Poss, president of Hanley-Wood Exhibitions, which manages the NACE show, who last May said some speakers at NACE in recent years have led insurers to feel unwelcome at the event.

"There's been some fairly strong positions that have been taken from the podium during NACE and those positions have left the insurance folks feeling somewhat alienated at NACE," Poss said. "And that's not in anyone's best interest."

O'Reilly pulls no punches

But if "strong positions" were something show organizers wanted to avoid during the NACE chairman's opening address, that restriction definitely did not apply to O'Reilly, who followed Crump's address with his own no-holds-barred view of everything from the war on terrorism to what the new movie "The Cat in the Hat" indicates about today's society.

"The elite media doesn't tell you this stuff, doesn't put anything into perspective," said O'Reilly, the host of "The O'Reilly Factor" cable news program and the "No Spin Zone" national radio show. "They're not telling the 'why.' Why is it happening? What's the bigger picture?"

He said that he believes the war on terrorism should be characterized as "World War III" to bring the necessary urgency to the battle. Unlike in past conflicts in which there were other countries that could be negotiated with, the "fanatical Islamists" aren't open to dialogue.

"You can't talk to these people You can't reason with them. There's really nothing they want, other than to kill us, all of us," he said. "So you've got to accept that there are people out there who there's just no dealing with, and the only way that we can survive this is to kill them. We need to kill them."

Turning to politics, O'Reilly said he couldn't predict who would be the Democratic presidential nominee, but that was because of 9-11, President Bush has formed an emotional bond with much of the country, just as John F. Kennedy and Ronald Reagan had. Bush should win re- election, O'Reilly said, "unless all hell breaks loose in Iraq."

O'Reilly talked about the "loss of innocence" in today's society as kids are exposed to inappropriate images and messages through entertainment and the media. He cited the lyrics in some rap music and the crude humor in the movie "The Cat in the Hat" as just two examples. He said any parent who allows their children to have a TV or computer in their rooms without supervising what they are seeing is "just nuts." But he also criticized entertainment figures - and the companies that sponsor or reward them "for bad behavior" - for not taking responsibility for their actions.

"Everyone in America should be held accountable for what they do." O'Reilly said., drawing his biggest applause during the NACE address.

John Yoswick is a freelance writer based in Portland, Oregon, who has been writing about the automotive industry since 1988.

John Yoswick

John Yoswick is a freelance writer and Autobody News columnist who has been covering the collision industry since 1988, and the editor of the CRASH Network... Read More

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