WASHINGTON - Automakers are more united than ever, but they promise to influence public policy with information, not lobbying muscle, said Toyota's Jim Press, new chairman of the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers.
The next big test of that philosophy comes early in Press' tenure as the first executive of a Japanese car company to head the principal trade association of automakers in the United States.
California regulators are expected to decide Jan. 25 that zero-emissions vehicles must make up 10 percent of each manufacturer's fleet in two years. Automakers believe there are better ways to reach environmental goals.
'We would rather not look at it as talking them out of (the mandate),' Press said. 'We would rather engage them in a constructive dialogue (because) to some extent the industry holds the key to unlock the technology, which they need. They understand that.
'You can't mandate physics. You can't mandate that apples go from the ground up to the tree.'
Business as usual?
Press, executive vice president of Toyota Motor Sales U.S.A. Inc., made the remarks last week in an interview. It followed the alliance board meeting where he became chairman.
The alliance was created two years ago to bring U.S and overseas automakers together in one trade association.
Alliance members decided the chairmanship would rotate among executives on the board.
So Press' selection was no surprise, but it still is a milestone for him to become the leader of the trade association representing the former import-bashing Big 3.
While the California zero-emission decision is first on the agenda, an overriding issue is the Washington battle over fuel-economy standards, known as CAFE. It is about to be rejoined - regardless of how the political pieces fall into place in Florida.
'I think under any administration CAFE is going to be an issue because it's balancing the environmental interests of society with the capability and technology available to the industry,' Press said.
The alliance has proposed an alternative to higher CAFE standards. It would feature tax credits for buyers of advanced-technology vehicles, such as gasoline-electric hybrids.
On the global environmental front, the alliance is in the early stages of trying to form an industry position on the threat of climate change.
Motor vehicles are a major source of carbon dioxide, and some scientists say the buildup of the normally benign gas in the atmosphere is warming the planet and threatening catastrophe.
Press said: 'I think that it's an issue that we need to have a position on, but I'm not clear yet as to what our role would be.'