When James B. Woulfe looked into the future, he wasn’t enamored with what he saw. Unlike many others, however, he opted to do something to improve the situation. Woulfe, a 1992 Automotive Hall of Fame Distinguished Service Citation recipient, is well known in the industry for many reasons, including his success as a car dealer, his service and performance in trade associations, and his generous contributions of time and resources to local charitable and civic endeavors in his Dublin, California, area. But perhaps his most emphatic impact on the industry he has served since 1946 was the vision he had which spawned Project 2000, a National Automobile Dealers’ Association (NADA)-sponsored program that has had a dramatic effect on the industry.
Woulfe launched Project 2000 during his tenure as NADA president in 1986, after he determined that the industry needed to chart a new – and better directed course for its future. “Project 2000 was – and still is – designed to determine what will happen to the industry and to dealers as we approach the next century,” Woulfe says. ”We wanted to look at various factors, such as which products might be popular, and at certain problems, such as overcapacity, and attempt to address those concerns before they overwhelmed the industry.”
The results of Project 2000 were quickly translated into tangible benefits for dealers and for manufacturers. ”We urged dealers to improve their parts and services departments, because our research showed that those areas would hold profit keys to the future,” Woulfe says. ”We also told dealers they had to enhance their used car operations, sensing that, as economic times worsened, customers would be more attracted to used cars.”
Project 2000 also helped dealers control their expenses and sought to improve manufacturer-dealer relationships. In that spirit, NADA shared Project 2000 with the manufacturers. Woulfe himself brought a wealth of experience to his efforts as NADA president and, subsequently, to Project 2000. After his discharge from the Marines, where he served as a fighter pilot, Woulfe began his career in this industry when he joined Ford in its sales division. From 1946-53, Woulfe’s job was to call on dealers and promote Ford products.
He entered the world of car dealerships as a participant in 1953, when he accepted a position as a general manager of a dealership in Albany, California. He purchased a portion of the business in 1955, and became its sole owner in 1959. In 1974, he founded Shamrock Ford, in Dublin California, which he still operates today. A year later, he sold his Albany dealership to devote his full efforts to the new franchise.
From the mid-’60s on, Woulfe became a driving force in local and national trade associations. He became involved with the Northern California Motor Car Dealers Association, serving twice as its state legislative chairman before becoming its president in 1966-67. In 1970, he became a NADA director and has served as its regional vice president three times. He was NADA’s president in 1986, and remains a director with the association. In fact, he is the director with the most tenure at NADA. He also currently serves NADA as treasurer of its National Automobile Dealers Charitable Foundation.
During all this, Woulfe’s energy and innovativeness were not going unnoticed by the manufacturing side of the industry, either. He was one of the first dealers ever to represent NADA on the Ford Dealer Council, and was also selected as a member to that prestigious group in 1978, based on the success of his own dealership.
In his four-plus decades of involvement in the industry, Woulfe says he’s seen some dramatic changes in the way dealerships – and perspective car buyers – operate. “Right now, we’ve gone a full 180-degrees from the way things were when I first got involved in the industry,” he says. ”Whereas in the past, it was a manufacturer-driven situation, where manufacturers tried to dictate what cars consumers would buy, today, we’re in a consumer-driven situation, where we have to react – quickly- to the needs and wants of the consumer.” Another change Woulfe has perceived is the methods consumers use in buying cars. “Customers in our area, for example, come into our dealership already having made a thorough study of the market and the cars they’re interested in,” he says. “By the time they hit our floor, they pretty much know what they want and how much they’re willing to pay for it.”
Woulfe says both trends – the consumer-driven marketplace and more knowledgeable buyers – are ones that will continue. Another area of importance to the industry- the profitability of dealers is of paramount importance to Woulfe, and he says it’s a key to the industry’s survival. “Everyone is under pressure to make a profit,” he says. “In order to keep dealerships together, manufacturers have to help make sure that they enjoy a profit. The relationship between manufacturers and dealers will become even more cooperative as the years go on.” With men such as Woulfe helping to guide the way, the path to profits should be well-marked and easier to travel.