If auto industry leaders care about U.S. trade, immigration, tax and energy policy headed into the 2016 election, they're going to have to present their own case.
Because this time, nobody else will do it for them. Neither major-party presidential candidate is gung-ho on free trade. They are staking out positions appealing to restive voters concerned about U.S. job prospects and stagnating wages.
The auto industry has vital interests at stake in the outcome of national debates about trade, immigration, fuel economy and safety regulation, U.S. energy policy and other issues.
Automakers and suppliers may want continued access to work visas for foreigners with specific education and training in specialized skills, for example. But such nuance may get lost in the clamor of opposing parties taking extremely divergent immigration policy positions.
Should the industry publicly step into election-year politics?
Auto executives' instincts are to stay out of the line of fire and avoid alienating potential customers, especially when voters are as polarized as they are in this election cycle.
But national and local candidates under pressure and eager to curry favor for votes may not give the auto industry a pass. Automakers, in part because of their sheer size, are always handy whipping boys on a variety of topics.
Ford Motor Co. already has been singled out for criticism for supposedly shipping jobs to Mexico. So has General Motors.
With its long lead times and heavy capital investment, the auto industry needs continuity and predictability in regulations. It needs long-term energy and trade policies aimed at avoiding conflict and crises.
In a political age of ever-shorter sound bites and 140-character insults, the auto industry needs to promote logic and measured actions. It's time for industry leaders to lay out their case.