Special Coverage

Management Briefing Seminars

TRAVERSE CITY, MI – As painful as it was to watch, the U.S. government’s scolding of Detroit auto makers last fall, and the subsequent bankruptcies that resulted at the former General Motors Corp. and Chrysler LLC, led to a greater understanding of the auto industry in Washington, a panel of experts says.

“I think one of the reasons the Detroit Three leaders took such a hit was because even they weren’t aware how little understanding people in Congress had about how the industry worked,” George Perry, CEO of Yazaki North America, tells attendees at the annual Management Briefing Seminars here.

Perry says the appointment of a so-called “car czar,” a position currently held by Ron Bloom who spoke at MBS Wednesday, “may be a good thing for the industry.

“It’s obvious we weren’t able as an industry to get our message across to the government. Maybe (because) they appointed somebody who is supposed to understand the message, they’ll listen.”

Dave McCurdy, CEO of the Alliance for Automobile Manufacturers, believes “Congress as a whole” now is more aware of how the industry functions.

Still, he wishes the May announcement of a fuel-economy compromise between auto makers, the California-led coalition of states, the Federal government and environmental groups had not been overshadowed by the GM and Chrysler bankruptcies.

“The crisis stepped on the headlines of that achievement, which is a bit frustrating,” McCurdy says, because it would have helped change perception – that the industry now is “more proactive and progressive and trying to address broader goals.”

Perry says increased understanding of the auto industry by everyday Americans is as important as that of Washington lawmakers.

“We need to make sure the public understands why this industry is so critical and what it really means for America to be leading in (automobiles),” Perry says.

cschweinsberg@wardsauto.com