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Remembering Dave Power

By: Bel Air Partners
Published: February 1, 2021

Dave Power was a giant of the automotive industry. With all the accolades he’s receiving, there was a lot more to him than the obvious.

I had the good fortune to consult with Dave in the mid 90’s as he examined the financial future of J D Power and Associates. That was after I was responsible for the IPO of Rush Enterprises, the country’s largest heavy duty truck dealer. Before that I had assisted Opinion Research, another market research company, go public. Following are a few of my reminisces.

Dave loved his stealthy Impala SS, a V8 rocket ship of a car. To the uninformed it looked like a plain old Chevy. Likewise, beneath his unassuming modesty was a powerful drive and soaring intelligence.

Dave invented the market research process of polling consumer opinions prior to selling the results to his clients. That took guts. His investment in the process had to be made prior to revenue being assured. Previously, research was done only after a client was signed. To a large measure, he elevated the fortunes of Toyota and other Japanese brands by illuminating their dependability while forcing domestic brands to confront their indifferent construction.

Dave created the “Dealer Round Table” where the country’s, if not the world’s, movers and shakers of the dealer community met to hear about new ideas and huddle together to discuss issues with their peers. Since then, other dealer-oriented conferences have been borne. A personal note here - shortly after I left Wall Street and formed Bel Air Partners, I was a guest speaker at one of Dave’s conferences. Meeting many top dealers like the redoubtable Hoot McInerny accelerated our success.

Dave was an iconoclast ahead of his time. Decades ago he advanced the idea of bundling dealerships of different makes on one location. Manufactures resisted but consumers would benefit. Today dealers and consumers have embraced his idea.

Dave deserves credit for quietly exposing the great Honda scandal. As memorialized by the book “Honda and Accords,” certain high-level American Honda executives were lining their own pockets by appointing new dealers to the highest bidders. Several went to jail. True to his nature, Dave never wanted publicity. He just wanted to do the right thing.

I remember attending the 1997 launch of the Volkswagen New Beetle with Dave at the Detroit Auto show. The press and consumers alike were wildly enthusiastic. I was one of them. Not so much Dave. As far as he was concerned it was a marketing gimmick that wouldn’t last. In retrospect, he was right. At another time we attended the unveiling of the new Lexus RX 300, which was essentially the first crossover eschewing the conventional body on frame SUV so popular at the time. Dave recognized consumers might have liked the image of a 4x4, but many would prefer the comfort off a tall car. Undoubtedly he called it perfectly.

I’m honored to have spent a few moments in time with Dave Power, an automotive industry icon.

A version of this article was published as a Letter to the Editor in the February 1, 2021 edition of Automotive News. You can read it here.

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