2020 candidates need real knowledge of auto industry

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Once again, it’s a presidential election year in the U.S. And the auto industry risks again becoming a topic for the quadrennial political debate over its future — a matter that gets brought up haphazardly, dealt with superficially and dismissed regrettably.

Yet it is vitally important that this industry make itself heard to those running for higher office.

Candidates must be made to understand that the auto industry extends well beyond the convenient photo backdrop of the local assembly plant, and that a significant portion of the continent’s residents depend upon its economic health.

Those who want to be president in 2021 — including the incumbent — must be encouraged to develop a deeper understanding of this industry, especially the destruction that sudden policy changes wreak on long and capital-intensive planning cycles.

Numerous critical auto industry issues face the next administration: emissions standards, outstanding disputes with global trading partners, and charging infrastructure or consumer tax credits to support electric vehicles.

And there are other issues that require the strong regulatory hand that only government can provide, including finally bringing to an end the dangerous practice of some companies effectively beta-testing their products on public roadways, endangering motorists, pedestrians and others.

The chore of educating politicians is certainly in the wheelhouse of the newly formed Alliance for Automotive Innovation, though the merged entity seems unfortunately uninterested in international trade policy.

Over the last three years, the industry has weathered the chaos of the Trump administration — internecine fights over emissions regulations, out-of-the-blue trade disputes, threats of job-killing tariffs — thanks to a robust economy. A fifth straight year of 17 million new-vehicle sales in the U.S. salved what could have been many open wounds.

But as this entire industry knows, economies and auto sales are cyclical; and today’s thriving industry can become tomorrow’s crisis. When it does, it’s imperative that whoever wins this year’s election understand the auto industry and what it needs to survive and flourish.

And that only happens if this industry is more to whoever occupies the Oval Office than just an occasional photo op.

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