With a cease-fire in effect on the automotive trade front, and with overseas-based car companies wedded to the Big 3 in the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, who needs the Association of International Automobile Manufacturers?
AIAM, whose survival was in doubt a year ago as a trade association representing New American Manufacturers and others, is a leaner organization with a clearer mission today. But it is as feisty as ever, its new leaders say. Tim MacCarthy, president of AIAM since April 2000, talked about the changes at AIAM and its future in an interview with Staff Reporter Harry Stoffer.
What is different about AIAM now?
AIAM kind of has become a model of what a Washington office of either a corporation or trade association will look like in the future. We used to have a budget of about $8 million. Now our budget is about $3 million. We're much more focused than we were before. Rather than just being generalists, we ask ourselves on every issue: "Does this provide value-added to our members?" And if it doesn't, we don't do it.
The structure was changed within AIAM to try and prevent redundancy, in that everybody who is a member of AIAM has to be a member of the core group, and that includes companies like Nissan and Toyota (which are also in the alliance). If you want the technical services, that's an additional amount of money you pay -or not. In the case of Toyota and Nissan, it's "not." But Subaru and Honda and others are members of the technical part as well...
Some of the areas of commercial affairs are not sexy and they are not front-page issues in the Washington Post, but they are bottom-line, dollar issues for our companies. Customs modernization, for example, is a big damn deal to the some of those green-eye-shade people back in California.
Last year, you talked about attracting new members. How is that going?
Until I get the first dues check, you won't know for sure. We have a program in place right now to talk to some suppliers and to talk to some manufacturers about memberships. Where we are focusing on new manufacturer membership is in the area of small-volume guys.
There are a lot of small volume guys who don't have representation in Washington. They wouldn't qualify for membership at the alliance. Plus, they couldn't afford it ... What I'm trying to find out is if they think they need a home. A lot of them are trying to meet safety and emissions requirements, which is an area where we work. Some of them may have some import issues.
What are the main arguments for AIAM?
The alliance doesn't deal with trade issues. What do (international-brand) companies do if they become part of the alliance? The alliance would have to get into trade issues, and I think there's still significant differences on a whole lot of trade issues - toward the Korean manufacturers, toward Japanese manufacturers.
For the foreseeable future we have really identified an important niche for us. If we tried to be just like the alliance, we would not succeed. That's why I said it's so important for us to really stay targeted and focused on what we can bring to the table, and on the broader brush of issues work with larger organizations. In some cases it might be the alliance. We work on a lot of important issues with NAM (the National Association of Manufacturers) and the Chamber of Commerce.