U.S. Rep. Roger Williams (R-Texas) has strong feelings about the importance of the used-vehicle market.
“It’s growing, because the price of new cars is getting so high, and people are basically payment buyers,” Williams said. “The price of used cars is going up proportionally.
“So maybe a person could budget $500 a month, and it used to be that for a new vehicle, but now it falls under the category of used. So, the used-car market is going to continue to grow.”
Williams has long been active in the public sector, serving as Texas secretary of state from 2005 to 2007 before being elected to Congress in 2012. He has also worked in the auto industry for more than 40 years, and he is the owner of Roger Williams Chrysler/Dodge/Jeep/Ram/SRT, a business his father started in 1939. Since his election to Congress, his wife, Patty, and his daughters, Sabrina and J.J., have served as managing partners of the auto dealership and have handled the day-to-day operations.
If you follow Williams’ work in Congress, you can see his advocacy against programs that he says would hurt the auto industry, such as tariffs. He feels getting Congress and the White House to understand the importance of the auto industry to the U.S. economy as a whole is vital.
“I think we have to continue to remind everybody that the auto industry in a lot of aspects does drive the economy,” Williams said. “When sales are up, the economy is good. When sales are down, it’s not good.”
He is a supporter of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act that went into effect in 2017. The tax cuts helped auto dealers, auto manufacturers and consumers, Williams said.
“I know we see consumers have a little hop in their step,” Williams said. “They’re buying cars now that maybe they would not. The unemployment is low because of this, so the tax cuts, for example, have really helped the auto industry. The auto industry is growing, which helps the economy.”
Examples of Williams’ auto industry advocacy
But although he supports President Donald Trump’s tax cut law, Williams does not support tariffs. For the auto industry, Williams said, tariffs raise the cost of goods sold, which also affects the number of vehicles that dealers carry in their inventory, and that could result in fewer orders.
“And when you have less orders … the plants have to lay people off or shut shifts down, and that works in a negative way, so I think we have to be careful with tariffs,” Williams said. “Because you know in the auto industry, if the price of a car goes up $5,000, it changes somebody’s payment. In many cases, $50 a month keeps somebody from buying a new car, so we’ve got to be very careful with that.”
Williams has earned recognition for his auto industry advocacy, and one example was the National Independent Automobile Dealers Association naming him the winner of the first NIADA Legislator of the Year award in 2017. Williams has also advocated for auto industry concerns to Federal Reserve chair Jerome Powell, who Williams thinks is “doing a pretty good job.” But Williams is against raising interest rates at the moment. He is “excited” about reports that the Fed was unlikely to raise interest rates this year.
As a business owner for about 40 years, Williams remembers interest rates at about 21% in the 1980s.
“So, I know what rates can do to a business,” he said. “And rates are low right now, but the principal balances are so high on these automobiles that in many cases, most of us are paying more to carry the inventory today than we did back in ’81, when we were paying 20%. So, interest rates, we need to watch that.”
He mentioned a provision in the tax legislation that allowed dealers to deduct interest on their floor plan rather than create as income, which he said was “a big benefit.”
“I think that the more successful we are in the auto industry, the more successful this economy is,” Williams said.
Other politicians work on auto industry issues
Many former and current lawmakers and politicians, like Williams, are making an impact on the auto industry and working with current leaders in government on such projects.
SubPrime Auto Finance News reported earlier this year that former Consumer Financial Protection Bureau director Richard Cordray met with California Assembly member Monique Limon, with the two reported to have discussed how to address “attacks against consumer protections.”
Auto Remarketing recently reported that former U.S. House majority leader Richard Gephardt (D-Mo.) is serving in an advisory role for e-mobility and tech company, Fisker Inc., which builds electric vehicles and proprietary solid-state battery technologies.
Former US DOT chair and former Charlotte, N.C. mayor Anthony Foxx is now serving in an executive position with Lyft.
And current politicians like U.S. Rep. Williams of Texas are out there on the front lines of the political scene, working to help the auto industry.
Williams’ current projects
Asked what automotive issues he is currently working on, Williams said, “We’re working 24/7 on the auto industry.”
“No. 1 is to make sure we keep costs down, that the manufacturers do not challenge the franchise system,” Williams said. Eliminating the minimum wage and letting competition “work and create maximum wages rather than minimum wages” is another idea he favors, along with keeping a rein on CAFE standards.
“We need to watch CAFE standards so we don’t get them up so high, and the president gets this, because as you know, he’s wanting to lower them,” Williams said, adding that he doesn’t want to see manufacturers forced to make what the dealer and customer don’t want to sell or buy.
Williams is an advocate for the franchise system, and hopes the federal government does not consider Tesla as the model to copy in how that company sells directly to the consumer.
“We don’t need GM, Chrysler or Ford competing against dealers that have been in the business 50, 60 or 70 years,” he said. “So, I’m fighting for that all the time. We’ve got a lot going on, and our industry is one that will be challenged if we don’t stand up for it.”
He believes the used-vehicle industry will play a prominent role in the overall auto industry. Williams said the economy is strong, but people don’t have a lot of funds to put down on a new vehicle. If not for factory rebates, buyers would not have a down payment in most cases, he added.
“So that just drives more people to the used-car market,” Williams said. “Used-car values are going to go up, and we’ll have to be aware that a good used car is something we need to keep.
“Also, I think you’re going to find more dealers keeping older-model, high-mileage cars, because that’s more of a market now than we’ve had in the past.”