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Fighting talk from the front line

As I approached the day I was to become editor of AM, I was particularly conscious of the need to gauge the feeling of the industry which I was going to spend the foreseeable future communicating and interacting with.

I had two opportunities in quick succession. The AM Awards would appear on the surface to be a perfect opportunity: nearly 1,000 senior figures representing the broadest cross-section of our readership that you would ever hope to get in one room together. But an awards ceremony is a rarified atmosphere as people are there to essentially celebrate success and network over a bottle of fine wine. It is not the best environment to take stock of the state of our ‘nation’.

And so it luckily became clear that an event, again organised by AM, I attended the previous week had proved a much more informative barometer of industry feeling. This was a roundtable meeting chaired by my predecessor Stephen Briers, where he posed questions deliberately thought of to inspire those attending to speak openly and honestly about the key issues facing their businesses.

Naturally, the first of these concerned stopping the decline in sliding sales?

Influenced by the months of media stories outlining the dire straits the car industry was in, I was thinking the coffee would be served with cyanide pills, such was the likely mood of the meeting, faced with such a question.

However, I couldn’t have been more wrong. And I am happy to admit that. Dealer after dealer spoke of confidence in their business and their staff’s ability to survive the recession and bounce back stronger.

Some talked of increased footfall in their showrooms, one of ‘phenomenal’ used cars sales this year, creative initiatives to raise the moral of staff and around the table there was a consensus that they refused to talk up the recession.

Birchwood Group’s operations director Pete Parker explained how space wall space at his dealerships had been taken up with posters reading: “We refuse to participate in a recession”.

I’m not denying the gravity of the situation the car market is in now, but simply, stirring stuff such as this gives me confidence and inspiration to address the challenges facing our industry in a similarly inspired way.

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