US auto suppliers think their industry's lack of lobbying was one of the reasons President Bush imposed tariffs on imports of foreign steel last March.
The tariffs, which suppliers say have raised prices and created supply problems, have spurred the normally low-key industry into action. Auto suppliers haven't been able to pass the price increase onto automakers, which routinely demand price cuts.
Small and large suppliers only recently realized the influence they could have. But suppliers historically have relied on the automakers - such as Ford, General Motors and DaimlerChrysler - to take the initiative in Washington.
"Our interests are not always going to be the same," said Ana Lopes, director of government relations for the Motor & Equipment Manufacturers Association (MEMA). "I think, in some ways, the steel tariff gave them the impetus to not only be more active but develop their own voice. It was the first time a lot of these companies have worked through the trade association and on their own."
Part of that was because suppliers let automakers handle most of the lobbying for the industry, she said. The other reason was the supplier culture.
"This is an industry that's been independent," Lopes said. "It doesn't ask for things from the government. It takes the hits and keeps on going."
Suppliers such as Metaldyne, ArvinMeritor and Dura Automotive Systems have been active in lobbying in the past year. They've led meetings with members of Congress and worked more with MEMA. That'll continue even when the steel tariffs expire, they say.
Their voices are starting to be heard. A resolution was introduced at the beginning of the month that could help auto suppliers.
The resolution asks President Bush to direct the US International Trade Commission (ITC) to consider the effects of the steel tariffs on auto suppliers and other steel-consuming industries. The ITC is to release a midtariff report in September. It could leave the tariffs intact for an additional 18 months, eliminate them or alter them.
The steel industry's trade association agreed that lobbying is important and helped bring attention to the illegal dumping of foreign steel into the USA that led to the tariffs.
Jeffrey Stoner, vice president of procurement for ArvinMeritor, said suppliers need to do more information campaigns.
"We have a lot of work to do in that regard," he said. "The Tier 1 industry is relatively unknown in Washington. The supplier community needs to demonstrate his presence."
Face-to-face meetings with members of Congress and administration policymakers are also very important.
"We really hadn't done a lot of that before," said David Skrzyniarz, director of global purchasing for Dura. "The way we look at it, this tariff was enacted kind of quickly without a lot of background. We have to have the Tier 1s represented when these decisions get made."