Survival tip: Adapt now, bet later

It would be tough to make a living by betting on where this industry is headed.

A decade ago, automakers were scrambling to convert to small cars. No one with a shred of sanity would have predicted what we witnessed last week: Ford boasting about a lineup that will soon be 86 percent light trucks.

Two years ago here in Las Vegas, months after the Volkswagen diesel crisis erupted, it appeared that angry VW dealers were going to use their NADA make meeting to storm the factory ship. Not a sword was drawn, and it’s been campfire songs ever since.

Such turnabouts are what makes this such a storied business.

And there will no doubt be plenty of material for great tales to come. An industry born from the industrial revolution is in the throes of a digital revolution, after all.

Car dealers have every reason to be wary. What’s good for Amazon has not been so good for RadioShack, Toys “R” Us and countless other retailers — all as traditional as auto dealerships.

So dealers earnestly come to the NADA Show seeking clues on how the future — from selling sedans online to servicing autonomous vehicles — is going to play out.

But if dealers place their bets now, what happens if they’re wrong?

John Malishenko, COO of Germain Automotive Group in Ohio, argues that there’s a safer — and wiser — course.

His mantra: Be open to everything, and attached to nothing.

“My ability to be adaptable,” he said before heading here this week, “is more important than guessing right.”

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