Auto industry should brace for trade backlash, Cole says

Automakers and suppliers need to team up not just to cut costs or improve market share, but to ensure they can fight a possible backlash from "anti-government" activists who have stalked world trade conferences during the past two years.

2001 Management Briefing Seminars index

The global auto industry is at risk of drawing the wrath of this new generation of anarchists, said David Cole, director for the Center for Automotive Research, during the Management Briefing Seminars here on Wednesday.

"When we see the kind of things that have been happening, for example, in the G7 conferences and the recent demonstrations, the anti-growth philosophy that seems to be catching fire, I think that we can expect that the auto industry is going to be a target relatively soon," Cole said.

Those concerns will come into play with the Global Auto Institute, an automaker, supplier and trade group organization first envisioned by ASC Inc. founder Heinz Prechter, who died in July.

"He had this vision to try to bring the industry together to focus on policy issues related to the industry's future," Cole said.

The institute now is in its six-month organizational phase, drawing together leaders from manufacturers and trade groups, he said. It aims to have its first meeting by early January, in time for the North American International Auto Show in Detroit.

"We think these are times in the industry that really demands that manufacturers and suppliers come together as a senior leadership to talk about policy issues," Cole said. "It is a vision that is going to be shaped to provide value based on what the wants, needs and desires are of the industry."

You can reach Rhoda Miel at rmiel@crain.com

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