WASHINGTON DC - "Car guy" is not the most politically correct description to hang on Josephine S. Cooper, the new president of the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers (AAM), but she considered it a compliment when someone recently called her that.

After all, she loves cars, and even though she doesn't come from the auto industry, she knows being labeled a "car guy" is about the highest compliment an executive can get in the auto industry nowadays. And her easy-going style already is scoring points with journalists.

While not an auto industry insider, Ms. Cooper, 53, is a veteran Washington trade association executive, and has spent most of her career dealing with environmental and health and safety issues, which will be the primary focus of her new organization. Dealing with the proposed Tier 2 emissions regulations are one of the hottest issues on her agenda right now.

A native of North Carolina, she began her career with the Environmental Protection Agency air regulatory program and still serves on several boards and advisory groups, including the EPA Clean Air Act Advisory Committee.

In a recent speech to the 1999 SAE Government/Industry meeting - her first public address as president of the AAM - she promised a lean organization that will concentrate on issues relating to the environment, safety and harmonization of international automotive standards. She also promised a direct and collaborative approach to government relations, reflecting changing attitudes in Detroit and how the auto industry in general deals with federal regulators. "We don't want to be outside the fort lobbing in shells. We want to be inside the fort," she says.

The AAM is in the process of replacing the American Automobile Manufacturers Assn. (AAMA), the U.S. automotive trade group that dated back to 1900. For decades AAMA and its predecessor Motor Vehicle Manufacturers Assn. represented the interests of General Motors Corp., Ford Motor Co. and Chrysler Corp., helping them break down trade barriers, open closed markets such as

Japan and fight emission and fuel economy standards in the U.S. that the industry deemed unduly burdensome. It also conducted extensive research, and produced reams of statistics related to the auto industry. Its 100-page Motor Vehicle Facts and Figures booklet was considered a key reference for anyone involved with the auto business.

Despite its long history, the Washington, DC-based AAMA was disbanded shortly after the DaimlerChrysler merger became official and the U.S. "Big Three" automakers ceased to exist. The jobs of almost all of AAMA's 90-plus employees were eliminated, with only seven staying on to work for the new organization.

AAMA President Andrew H. Card Jr. is gone, too. He recently was named GM's top Washington lobbyist, replacing retiring GM executive George Peapples. Some AAMA operations have been shifted to other groups. WAW publisher Ward's Communications, for instance, has taken over some of the AAMA's statistical reporting functions.

In most ways the new AAM is starting fresh and is in the process of staffing up. It will be much different than the AAMA, Ms. Cooper says. It will lobby for not only GM, Ford and DaimlerChrysler, but most other companies manufacturing or selling vehicles in the U.S., including BMW AG, Nissan Motor Co. Ltd., Mazda Motor Corp., Toyota Motor Corp., Volvo Car and Volkswagen AG. The one key U.S. player still absent from the roster is Honda Motor Co. Ltd., which is taking a "wait and see" attitude about joining, says Ms. Cooper.

Because it now represents a much more diverse group of automakers, the scope of the alliance's activities will be smaller, and it will not deal with international trade issues, for obvious reasons. The organization itself will employ 30 to 35 people, making it about one-third the size of the previous AAMA, but it still will have a presence in California and Detroit. That leads Ms. Cooper to talk about running a very lean, highly focused operation, which she has done in her two previous jobs as an executive at two prominent trade associations.

Prior to joining the alliance, Ms. Cooper was vice president-regulatory affairs for the American Forest & Paper Assn., where she managed public policy issues relating to environment, health, safety, energy, transportation, employee relations and technology. And before that she was senior vice president at the Synthetic Organic Chemical Mfgs. Assn., where she managed policy development for more than 300 member companies and 25 affiliated chemical trade associations.

And she's serious about loving cars. Her automotive ownership resume includes a Ford Mustang (first car), a series of British sports cars, a Fiat Spyder, several BMWs and a Lexus. Now she says she's eyeing a pickup truck.