TRAVERSE CITY, MI – Susan Cischke spent much of her career at Ford in Washington, representing the auto maker before Congress and federal regulatory agencies focused on safety and environmental issues.

She retired in February as group vice president-sustainability, environment and safety engineering and moved to Florida. During a Management Briefing Seminars panel appearance today, Cischke says she experienced an eye-opener in Florida.

“I drive a Ford Edge, and (some) of the people I’ve met didn’t even know about Ford.” Lesson learned: It’s a different world outside Detroit and the auto industry.

That also may apply to Washington, where Cischke says auto makers and the challenges they face are not fully understood. “Working with the government in Washington probably aged me more than anything else,” she says.

The challenge of meeting the technical and economic costs of building safer vehicles with increasingly tough regulatory targets is not something highly appreciated in Washington circles, the former Ford executive emphasizes.

“They said to tell the customer what it costs and they’ll still buy (cars), but it doesn’t work that way,” she observes. “There’s a real gap in understanding. They think one size fits all” without considering the variety and complexity of vehicles in the marketplace.

“There’s a real knowledge shortage in Washington, and it’s our job to educate them,” Cischke says.