WASHINGTON - Overseas-based automakers are planning to overhaul the organization they created more than 30 years ago to deal with government regulators and to help them thrive in the American market.
Member companies currently are reviewing a consulting firm's recommendation that the Association of International Automobile Manufacturers be streamlined to avoid duplicating work done by the new Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers.
A larger question is whether AIAM will survive in any form.
'If I were a betting person, I would say so,' said Philip Hutchinson, president of AIAM. But he also acknowledged that 'momentum has shifted that way' - toward the alliance.
The alliance, formed in January by nine U.S.- and overseas-based manufacturers, quickly has grown to 11 members, and Mitsubishi Motors America Inc. is considering an application, sources told Automotive News.
In addition, the alliance has begun luring away senior AIAM staff members.
Last week, Greg Dana became the alliance's vice president of environmental affairs, and John Whatley became assistant general counsel. Both had similar roles at AIAM.
Ironically, Hutchinson was an early advocate of a single trade association to represent the entire automobile industry, but now that the alliance is up and growing, he's helping AIAM find reasons to continue as a separate group.
He said the overseas-based companies still care about issues, such as taxes and trade, that the alliance will not handle, and member company executives 'like the idea that they have a safe harbor' separate from the alliance.
Hutchinson declined to discuss details of the study conducted by consultants from PricewaterhouseCoopers. It is to be considered by AIAM's board at a Sept. 24 meeting.
Gil Bamford, Washington vice president for Toyota Motor Sales U.S.A. Inc., which was a founding member of the alliance and continues in AIAM, said companies 'don't want to pay for duplication.' Alliance dues, for example, are $250,000 for associate members and start at $1 million for voting members.
But Bamford, chairing an AIAM panel considering the overhaul, agreed that the association likely still has a role to play. He said of the talks on defining the revised role: 'We're not there yet.'
He predicted that changes, if approved, would be implemented by the start of the association's next fiscal year, March 1.
American Honda Motor Co., the biggest carmaker not in the alliance, remains committed to AIAM. But the company also believes 'any viable organization needs to assess its mission and structure from time to time,' said Jeffrey Smith, senior manager of corporate affairs and communication.
Smith said it's too early to tell how extensive the changes may be but added, 'AIAM is a very valuable resource, and it suits our needs effectively.'