It is no exaggeration to say the automobile industry is at the dawn of a new era in its relationship with government.
For better or worse, the newly formed Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers will attempt to speak with one voice for both the old Big 3 and a half dozen import-brand companies, most notably Toyota, Nissan and Volkswagen.
It is true, as advocates of a single automotive trade association say, that lobbyists for domestic and foreign automakers frequently have wound up working together on public policy issues over the years.
But now these nine disparate companies are going to seek agreement on matters big and small before interacting with federal regulators and lawmakers and with state governments.
As a fitting first test, they are faced with a big issue - the next round of federal clean air rules and the crucial question of whether cars and light trucks should be treated alike - even before the alliance is fully operational.
Reaching consensus on this and future issues will be difficult. We understand that individual corporate interests at times must come before industry unity. And we know the inevitable economic downturn only will increase pressure to disagree. Even the Big 3's marriage in the now-departed American Automobile Manufac-turers Association occasionally was strained over public policies.
Yet, as AAMA officials often said, government is not inclined to sort through a variety of opinions to deduce an industry position. At times the industry needs a single voice, or at least to sing in harmony. Messages need to be clear, concise, direct, reasonable - and sometimes loud.
The alliance must make the most of this new era. And remember: The best way to deal with disagreements when they do arise is to explain them with openness and candor.