How's business? Dazzling -- but we're keeping an eye on it

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The year is off to a sizzling beginning, jump-started by a hot January for sales. Profits are near all-time highs across the dealer landscape. And, if you listen closely to those who escaped the winter blizzard and made it to Orlando, business is downright rocking.

"The industry is in a very healthy place," said AutoNation CEO Mike Jackson at Friday's J.D. Power and Associates International Automotive Roundtable.

No potholes in sight, right? Well, not so fast.

One of the early themes of this year's convention is a guarded giddiness. Incentives are not yet a concern, but they could be. Market share slugfests are not yet bloody, but they might be.

"Diligence" is the buzzword of this convention, and the industry had better aspire to that.

"A near-death experience has a way of changing your life," said John Mendel, Honda's U.S. sales boss. "A lot of the traditional offenders have come to grips with a very different business mentality."

That business model is built on the customer coming ahead of the conquest.

Will it last? Can it last?

Can the good times really be here for good, or at least for now?

"There is always the risk" of going back to the old way of doing business, Mendel said. "This industry is not short on ego."

Time will tell.

You can reach Jason Stein at jstein@crain.com. -- Follow Jason on Twitter

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