NTEA Legal Counsel Disagrees with Suggestions Posed in Letter

Dear Editor:

In his letter to the editor (April 2001), Terry Benton of Superior Truck & Equipment Products Inc expresses frustration about companies that “have not lived up to their commitments to pay for products purchased or conversely [sic] to honorably handle warranty claims.” He indicates that he recently made a “bad sale,” in which he wasn't fully paid.

The crux of Mr Benton's letter is that, in his view, the National Truck Equipment Association should be doing something about this situation. He apparently would like the NTEA to bar the company that didn't pay him from exhibiting at the NTEA trade show. He also wants the NTEA to provide him with a “forum … to openly discuss, trade, and collect information on credit risks, unworthy products, poor warrantability, law risks, liability, and other serious issues.…”

As a small-business owner, I understand Mr Benton's frustration over uncollectible receivables and shoddy service and products provided by vendors. However, I take exception to his suggestion that the NTEA should be addressing these issues for him. The NTEA is a tax-exempt business league that promotes the interests of the truck equipment industry. It serves its mission by providing educational programs, publications, and technical services to companies in the industry. It represents manufacturers and distributors before Congress and regulatory agencies. It runs a highly successful, well-attended trade show (T3).

The NTEA has made a conscious decision not to get involved in garden-variety controversies that arise between companies in the ordinary course of business. A simple payment dispute is personal to the companies involved. It does not present industrywide issues that fall within the scope of the association's tax-exempt purpose. The NTEA has neither the time nor the resources to get to the bottom of Mr Benton's squabble. The judicial system serves that function, not trade associations.

The association does not use access to its programs to coerce or punish companies involved in disputes or that may use unconventional and unpopular ways of doing business. Mr Benton is correct when he states that the NTEA does not conduct “background checks” on companies that wish to exhibit at T3, in order to weed out the “bad apples.” To do so in a fair manner — one, for example, that would provide the other party to Mr Benton's ongoing feud with an opportunity to present his side of the story — would require staff and legal expense far beyond the NTEA's resources. Failure to afford due process in deciding who is worthy of participating in a trade association or its functions would expose the association and its trustees to liability under state and federal antitrust and defamation laws, among others.

Mr Benton's suggestion that the NTEA provide him with a “forum” to swap “information on credit risks, unworthy products, poor warrantability [sic], lawsuits, liability, and other serious issues” is a bad one for the same reasons. Those who question whether the antitrust exposure faced by trade associations is real should familiarize themselves with the consent decree entered into by the National Automobile Dealers Association in 1995. Mr Benton, in particular, should find it interesting that an open letter in an industry publication, urging dealers to take certain actions to protect themselves from certain practices of manufacturers, was one of the grounds on which the Antitrust Division of the US Department of Justice brought its action against NADA. The liability concerns presented by a forum for the exchange of the type of information Mr Benton has in mind would be staggering. Although certain elements of Mr Benton's idea may be feasible (eg, the development of a clearinghouse for lawsuits brought against manufacturers or distributors), these programs are complex and expensive to set up and administer.

In essence, Mr Benton's letter urges the use of trade association muscle to send a message to the companies that have earned his ire. The unstated premise of Mr Benton's letter is that group activity by trade association members to discipline “bad apples” would be more effective than the actions taken unilaterally by a single company. Although that may be true, it raises the specter of anticompetitive conduct. The NTEA has no intention of heading down the path suggested by Mr Benton.

Mr Benton is entitled to his opinions, both about the NTEA and various companies in the industry. Within certain limits, the law protects his right to express those views. The law is less forgiving, however, when competitors act in concert to harm other competitors, by engaging in group boycotts, pricing actions, or product disparagement. The NTEA will continue to focus on positive ways to elevate professionalism in the truck equipment industry; it has no intention of developing the types of programs suggested by Mr Benton.
Mark H. Sidman
Weiner Brodsky Sidman Kider PC
Legal Counsel to NTEA

Reader Applauds Coverage of E-Commerce

Dear Editor:

I agree with Sam Prather (“Next E-Commerce Wave Will Be Even Bigger,” March 2001) that e-commerce is a very important consideration for trailer and truck manufacturers or distributors. Rick Weber addressed many of these same issues back in your July 2000 issue. As a software firm that's been working closely with the truck equipment industry since 1984, we are committed to supplying e-commerce solutions as a way for businesses, as Prather says, “to improve visibility and responsiveness, reduce inventories, and optimize supply and demand matching,” along with increasing customer satisfaction.

The idea of e-commerce can be expanded to include other customer service applications that make a trailer or truck equipment business run more smoothly, such as a chassis locator or a virtual service center. Your article on Rayside Truck & Trailer (October 2000) mentioned how Spokane Computer's management software has helped the company “keep track of its inventory … (with) the ability to cross-reference part numbers.” Our business is to look out for your readers' best interests.

I commend your coverage of e-commerce issues and encourage you to continue to inform your subscribers regarding the value of e-commerce.
Dan Olson
President, Spokane Computer Inc

Trailmobile AddVantage Absent from Coverage

Dear Editor:

As the coverage indicated, thin-wall vans lead new products offered by trailer manufacturers at the (Mid-America Trucking) show. Notably absent was any mention of the Trailmobile AddVantage, which we had on display in Louisville. The AddVantage was introduced in the fall of 1999, and others followed. It would have been nice to receive some press along with the other manufacturers that followed Trailmobile with a sheet-and-post thin-wall design.
William Veit
Vice President
Trailmobile Trailer LLC

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