WASHINGTON - In hiring Andrew Card to head its Washington office, General Motors is acquiring as its chief lobbyist the auto industry representative most readily recognized by federal decision makers.
By doing so, GM is moving boldly to implement the former Big 3's joint strategy to shift lobbying responsibilities to the individual companies and away from their Washington trade association.
Industry officials, both inside and outside the company, say they believe that - more importantly - GM simply took the opportunity to snag a well-known and well-regarded Washington player.
Card will become GM's vice president for government relations on June 1. A former White House official and secretary of transportation, Card was president of the American Automobile Manufacturers Association until the former Big 3 disbanded the group at the end of 1998.
When those companies, along with six overseas-based automakers, formed the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, they said it will be a streamlined organization that will concentrate on the technical side of environmental and safety issues.
WON'T SHUN NEW GROUP
Ford Motor Co. was heading on a more independent lobbying course before the AAMA breakup, and DaimlerChrysler officials have been busy merging Washington operations of the former Chrysler Corp. and Daimler-Benz AG.
Card, downplaying the turn of events, said he appreciates the work the alliance will be expected to do. 'I will not be one who runs away from the alliance,' he said.
With more enthusiasm he said of his new assignment, 'I have been given the best opportunity with the greatest corporation in the world.'
Card, 51, said he views rapidly changing global conditions and environmental regulation as top challenges facing GM in Washington. And he observed, 'Government is probably GM's biggest partner, but it is a partner they can't fire.'
THE JOB HAS CHANGED
Card succeeds George Peapples, whose title was vice president for public policy and who has headed GM's capital office since 1994. Peapples, 58, joined the company in 1964 and was president of General Motors Canada for eight years. He will work on special projects until he retires at the end of this year, GM said.
GM altered its top Washington post for Card, not just in title but in responsibilities. They will include government relations from the local to the international level, and he will be a member of GM's North America Strategy Board for Automotive Operations.
GM Vice Chairman Harry Pearce, to whom Card will report, said in a statement, 'We will benefit from his perspective and leadership as we engage governments at all levels on issues of importance to the public and our business.'
In addition to Peapples, two other vice presidents for public policy who answer to Pearce will have new titles when Card arrives, said spokesman Bill Noack. Dennis Minano will be vice president for environment and energy, and Roderick Gillum will be vice president for corporate relations and philanthropy.