Editor’s Note: This column by Larry Troutt, chairman of the Recreation Vehicle Dealers Association (RVDA), appears in the June issue of RVDA’s RV Executive Today.
Almost a dozen relatively quiet and prosperous years have passed since Texas laws were amended to bring towable RV dealers, like me, under the same, longer-standing automobile and motorhome statutes of my state.
Back then, opposition from outside the Lone Star stat warned that passage of the Texas House Bill 2382 would force manufacturers to stop selling RVs of all types to dealers in Texas. Yet, the records show that RV sales continued to increase. In 2008 Texas dealers led the nation in volume of RV shipments received from manufacturers.
But again in recent weeks, there’s been much vocal and written concern emanating from up near our nation’s capital (almost exclusively from RV manufacturers and their national trade association) about buy-back provisions of existing state laws – such as those in Texas and Louisiana. The concerns, they say, are in response to buy-back provisions contained in state law proposals, which are being forwarded mostly by auto dealers all over the country. I’m guessing the car dealers are worried about the economy and sluggish retail sales.
RVIA asked in March that RVDA and RVIA sign a joint letter requesting that auto trade association executives, bill sponsors, and other appropriate individuals amend the proposed provisions in a way that reflects the differences between the auto and the RV industries.
RVDA’s board members, including me, took a stand behind RVDA’s long-existing policy that the national dealer association has no business interfering with our dealer member’s legislative initiatives within their own states. If we did as requested and took a position that there is a difference between the needs of RV and auto dealers, then such a national perspective could be used by others to oppose state legislative efforts by our own dealer members.
As a sign of how seriously we considered RVIA’s request, I sought the opinions of RVDA’s elected delegates who represent members from each state, as well as the RVDA Industry Relations Committee. We all agreed. RVDA provided a clear, written explanation of our policy to those interested at RVIA.
As chairman of the board of RVDA, I’ve tried to quietly listen during meetings to what non-RVDA members have said about my state’s laws. But in this magazine format, I think I’m entitled to share my personal perspective – a Texas RV dealer’s point of view.
I was among about 30 RV dealers from cities and towns all across Texas who formed an informal coalition and pushed for legislative change regarding towable RVs. We were trying to bring towable RVs under existing Texas statues, which included buy-back provisions for automobiles and motorhomes. There were many other provisions of the bill. Logically, advice was sought from the powerful Texas Auto Dealers Association, because RV dealers thought they shared common concerns with auto dealers. The auto dealers agreed.
Once introduced, the bill was quickly and strongly opposed by well-financed forces from outside Texas.
RVDA sent information to Texas dealer members about the bill, but did not take a position supporting the legislation as requested by some Texas RVDA members. This is the same policy the national association has on state legislation today.
Our bill was passed through the Texas House of Representatives and the Senate, and signed into law by then-governor George W. Bush who wrote, “After considering various facts and opinions, I signed the bill…I believe that Texas will benefit from this law.”
Recently in the spring 2008, I participated in the unanimous RVDA board of director’s vote to add to the association’s strategic plan a fifth guiding principle of “ADVOCACY” on public policy and industry issues that impact RV dealer members. Then a few weeks ago, I was among the current board members expressing unanimous belief that national association support of dealer member initiatives within their respective states might be appropriate, but the national association should initiate within the states.
As a Texas RV dealer, licensed and franchised by my state’s laws to sell several different RV brands and provide factory warranty service for their owners, I personally do not wish to suggest to dealers from other states what laws would be best for them. I believe dealers should decide what is best for their businesses within their own states.
I also know from experience that political power to affect legislative change resides at the state level, not the national.
When I’m asked questions about what it’s like to be a Texas dealer operating under some of the most comprehensive license and franchise laws for RV sales and service in the United States, I don’t mind providing answers. In fact, I almost feel I should.
I have been happily and quietly going about my business because things have been pretty good and peaceful — especially in my dealership’s relations with RV manufacturers — since Sept. 1, 1997.
That’s when the last Texas dealer’s legislative initiative became law.