Highlights from the 2023 ACE Automotive Conference and Expo

By Amber Cruickshank

We came, we saw, we learned, and we schmoozed. The 2023 ACE Automotive Conference and Expo was held October 17-19 at the Fallsview Casino Resort and Convention Centre in Niagra Falls, ON. Presented by the Motor Vehicles Retailers of Ontario (MVRO) and Consolidated Dealers, ACE was a three-day smorgasbord of automotive learning for Dealers, suppliers and industry experts. With record Dealer attendance, ACE was packed with incredible speakers, quality content, an onsite trade show, social events and abundant networking opportunities (not to mention some pretty cool swag). 

Leadbox’s President & CEO, Ian Cruickshank, and Sr. Director of Sales, Randy Leal, were in attendance and happy to share their biggest takeaways from this electrifying event. 

Ian Cruickshank – President and CEO – Highlights and Takeaways

Lee Jays – Business Futurist and Innovation Leader from Walmart Canada, led a keynote that set the stage for the event and left a lasting impact. Here are a few things that stuck with Ian. 

  • Exercise on making time to plan for the future of your business.
    • By the end of the decade, every 12 days will be the equivalent of one year. Have a bag filled with 24 poker chips, each representing an hour in the day. How can you be ready for the future? Invest one of those hours each day in Future Planning and Research. 
  • Lee Jays quotes Ian loved
    • “Be Bold on Value OR Be Bolder on Luxury.” – You can’t be both; only boldness in one area will work for your business. By Jay’s Assertion, “The middle class will cease to exist.”
    • “There is a big difference between the people who work in the business of today vs those who are working in the world of tomorrow.” If you’re not considering both, how can you be ready for what’s coming? 
  • Walt Disney reference – did you know that Walt Disney had three rooms for key people – the Dreamer Room, the Realists Room and the Critics Room? These rooms allowed the Disney Corporation to get wildly varied perspectives on their ideas, which they could then distil into new plans for the future. 
  • The last part of this talk that really hit home for Ian was this: Ideas are Easy – Experimentation is Hard, and Constantly Experimenting is Almost Impossible.

“At Leadbox, we regularly invest time in considering the future of the auto business. Be sure to look outside the Auto business, which can be hard sometimes as we are all so focused on our world. If you’re looking for a kick start to consider the future of automotive, have a look at Steve Greenfield’s book, The Future of Automotive Retail.” – Ian Cruickshank – President and CEO Leadbox.

Used Car Panel

The panel that Ian enjoyed the most was the Used Car Pannel with Mathew Growden, Shawn Vording (CarFax), Vince Palladino (Palladino Group), Matt Trapp (Manheim)

Interesting and conflicting stats from a couple of folks on the panel: 

  • Current used Car inventory is down 29% (CarFax)
  • Used up 38% in North America (Manheim)

So which is it – Is the auction seeing more inventory skewing their numbers, or is CarFax seeing less activity on their side? I’ll let you be the judge based on your own inventory, but the bottom line is that things are still not back to normal since the Pandemic – and not by a long shot. The collective expectation of the panel is that it will take about 5-7 more years to get back to “normal” inventory levels and business operations. So, we all need to stay buckled up and keep an eye on our own businesses to ensure we’re as successful as possible through the rest of this decade. 

On Electric Vehicles:

  • The panel expects EVs and ICE vehicles to reach par pricing as EV production costs come down. Manheim has acquired a company that is testing, assessing the health of, and reconditioning EV batteries. Matt and the Google Team are bullish on the continued growth of EV Sales globally.
  • Based on the continued wait list for vehicles, Palladino sees a high-gross model sticking around for a long time.
  • People are trying to get out of leases and vehicles because they can’t afford them. BMO left auto credit with 400MM in Defaults.
  • This year, the vehicle registration numbers are 10% EV. CarFax data says that we will get to 20% by 2026. It also says that the current taxation on fuel is required to run Canada.
  • Plug-in hybrid is in high Adoption 75% growth in the last quarter.

Ian also had the pleasure of speaking at the event. This time, he was sharing details on what Customer Data Platforms can do for your Dealership, not only from the marketing efficiency perspective but also relative to the operational benefits that come from gaining more insights into the customer behaviours displayed in the various departments at your store. 

“At Leadbox, we’ve been spending a lot of time discussing this as we continue building our Dealership Customer Data Platform (CDP). You can gain so much benefit from having a CDP in your store – even a better understanding of your Customer Lifetime Value can help with key decisions in your store.” – Ian Cruickshank – President and CEO Leadbox.

Randy Leal – Sr. Director of Sales – Highlights and Takeaways

Here are a few of Randy’s main Takeaways:

  1. AI (Artificial Intelligence) is all the rage. Rather than fear the technology, dealers are eager to learn how AI can help them accelerate their operations and streamline costs. 
  2. There is a lot to learn about AI—the knowledge base in relation to AI changes at a record-breaking pace. The keynote speaker spoke about how every 12 days, what we know about AI is irrelevant and new findings have been discovered.
  3. Rates are having an (almost) insurmountable effect on dealer business. One of the biggest concerns dealers spoke directly to me about was how they’ve had to change their target plans completely. Lease portfolios are challenging to manage as consumers come out of extremely low-rate leases to face rates that are double and triple what they are used to. Finance rates are making it very challenging to upgrade customers since payments are so much higher, and, of course, vehicle prices have increased substantially over the last few years.

As inventory and interest rates collide, these elements and rising flooring costs are causing Dealerships to look closely at their business costs. The way forward seems to be a combination of ensuring that your store generates a higher-than-average market share while managing costs as effectively as possible. It’s a tight balance, but Leadbox is here to help. 

“Wow, what a show! Amidst the workshops, learnings, and the buzz of collaboration, the ACE conference in Niagara Falls echoed the spirit of resilience in the automotive industry.  Seeing the Ontario market dealers and partners come together to navigate the challenges the industry has faced over the last few years while simultaneously looking for paths to operational excellence and innovation was nothing short of awe-inspiring. The opportunity to witness this type of coming together at association events like ACE reminds us all of why we do what we do, all while reigniting the passion for our amazing industry.” Randy Leal – Sr. Director of Sales 

As the curtains fell on the 2023 ACE Automotive Conference and Expo, the automotive industry had a renewed sense of purpose and possibility. The ideas exchanged, technologies explored, and connections forged during the event are set to reverberate across the industry. The ACE Conference is a testament to the transformative power of collaboration and innovation in shaping the automotive landscape as we drive into the future. The road ahead is paved and powered by the ideas and advancements that emerged at this groundbreaking event in Niagara Falls.