As the recent Washington debate over fuel economy standards showed, the auto industry has little clout left in the nation's capital. And as Mary Ann Wright of JCI-Saft affirmed this month at the Management Briefing Seminars in Traverse City, Mich., most players in the political arena are largely ignorant of the issues that face the auto industry.
The industry must work harder at government relations. But it can best inform policymakers and regulators by taking a leadership role in dealing with environmental and safety issues, not by trying to lobby delegates at the Democratic and Republican national conventions.
This summer, a few automakers, suppliers and industry groups will try to show the flag at the parties' conventions. But their actions border on the pitiful. They have done the same sort of thing before, and it hasn't made much of a lasting impression.
Automakers, suppliers and dealers must begin the long, slow, hard slog of explaining the state of the industry to policy- makers by their actions, not just their words.
It seems as if the industry is waiting for the presidential candidates to come calling in hopes of winning auto industry voters in the battleground states of Michigan and Ohio. The issues are too critical for the industry and for America to play a waiting game that threatens to marginalize the industry further.
Events beyond the industry's control — such as high fuel prices, consumer demand for cars that exceed federal fuel economy standards, and nonindustry investors such as T. Boone Pickens working on alternative energy sources — could leave the industry on the outside looking in.
The time to act is now. If the auto industry leads in the quest for sustainable solutions, government and other industries will follow.