15 Minutes with R.D. Hopper
DIXIE KNIGHT PHOTO
When R.D. Hopper accepts the presidential gavel in Baltimore in October, he’ll be given an official new title. But it’s not too much of a different role for Hopper, who owns Sonny’s Auto Salvage in Jacksonville, Ark. This energetic recycler has worked tirelessly as an industry advocate since he attended his first ARA meeting back in 1988. Through the years, he’s been involved in the key issues, most notably as part of ARA’s government affairs committee and as chairman of the NMVTIS work committee. Hopper also serves as the Southwest Director for AADRA (Arkansas Automotive Dismantlers and Recyclers Association), and recently ran for State Senate. We sat down with R.D. Hopper for 15 minutes to get the inside look at his upcoming term, and what he hopes to achieve as ARA President. Read on.
What is your primary goal as ARA president?
It’s to ensure the future of auto recycling for the next generation. Recycling is an ever-changing business and we need to ensure its viability for future generations.
How do you plan to achieve that goal?
We need to get people involved in the key issues to ensure that we’re here in the future. Specifically, we need to identify people who are passionate about the industry, and about these issues, and invite them to join committees and work groups. There are a lot of areas where we can make a difference, such as lobbying so that body shops earn the same profit on used and recycled parts as they do on new parts. Right now, body shops make twice as much money on a new part, giving them no incentive to use recycled parts. We also can help by identifying the parts on our cars so we can inventory and sell them correctly. In addition, working to get fair access to our inventory will be one of our goals that will contribute to the future vitality of the industry.
How has serving on the ARA executive committee prepared you for the presidency?
I’ve seen the strengths of the other executive committee members, which enables me to be able to build on them. Serving on the government affairs committee for six years also has made me very aware of the key issues. There are things the leadership has started that I want to finish, with their help and others. There are changes coming down the pike, and recyclers need to be involved or we will be left out.
Importantly, I want to make sure that the voice that’s heard is the voice of the smaller independent recyclers struggling in today’s economic climate. The big guys have a voice; they always do. We want to make sure everybody’s represented.
What are some of the biggest legislative issues facing the auto recycling industry today?
I’d say recalls, environmental legislation, licensing and NMVTIS (the National Motor Vehicle Title Information System).
NMVTIS and making sure salvage buyers are registered was a big concern for you a couple years ago. How has this issue changed since then and what still needs to be done?
NMVTIS has not changed much; I’d say very little in fact. They have put some fines on insurance companies. The current problem is simple. The law says an individual can only buy five cars before having to start reporting. But they do not have an account number for individual buyers, so there’s no way to track if someone is buying five cars or 5,000 cars. They cannot enforce NMVTIS without a participation number. There are about seven million cars sold through auctions, where buyers are just recording their name with no number. All we need to do is assign an account number to the buyers and track when they get to five cars. We’ll be working toward that goal.
What other issues are facing the industry today?
There’s one more important issue, and that’s that independent owners of salvage yards have a succession plan. We have a lot of people in the industry nearing retirement age. If they sell out and close their yards, we won’t have an industry. The business is very challenging and could be viewed as a headache for their children. I want to work to make sure we make it easy for the next generation to pick up where their parents left off. We’re going to get in contact with recyclers, to see if they have a plan. We’ll do a measurement of people who have retired, how many are carrying on, and how many are closing up. Then, we’ll go from there.
What can ARA members expect from your presidency?
They can expect a clear and loud voice on current issues. I will be looking at these issues through one “window” and that’s making contact with key leaders in the industries that affect these issues. That’s something the past presidents have done, starting with Ricky Young and Mike Swift. They played an active role in looking for the decision makers in the insurance and the manufacturing industries-the people who drive access to recycled parts. We’ll be looking for those partnerships, and making sure that auto recyclers are represented in those meetings. That way they can hear our passion. Nobody can represent auto recyclers like auto recyclers.
What will your pet project be as ARA president?
I want to keep the pressure point on NMVTIS. We want to continue to have access to the parts interchange, and to be able to identify our parts when we’re inventorying and selling them. Then there’s the pricing issue-a fair markup when body shops use our parts.
On a personal note, are you planning on running again for state senate?
I would say yes, if I could raise the funds and if I could make a difference if I won. But that won’t even be a consideration until after the ARA presidency. That’s my focus now.