Auto industry reprieved as safety bill bounces back

WASHINGTON: The auto industry proved its enduring political power last week by heavily influencing legislation that was originally designed to rein it in.

WASHINGTON: The auto industry proved its enduring political power last week by heavily influencing legislation that was originally designed to rein it in.

WASHINGTON: The auto industry proved its enduring political power last week by heavily influencing legislation that was originally designed to rein it in.

The bill was inspired by the recent Bridgestone/Firestone tire recall, but in a nifty turnaround, was considered by many to be a triumph for rubber and auto manufacturers.

The compromises on the bill focused on two points: the level of criminal penalties that could be levied on companies knowingly selling defective products; and the level of data disclosure required of auto manufacturers.

Ralph Nader's watchdog group, Public Citizen, led the charge to impose harsher standards on the industry. The Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers (AAM), and the Rubber Manufacturers of America (RMA) went to bat for the defense.

What is unclear is the level of involvement of Ford and Firestone themselves.

Anne Wilson, VP for government affairs at RMA, of which Firestone is a member, claimed 'all members were involved' in the push to fine-tune the legislation. She declined, however, to comment specifically on Firstone's involvement. Jeff Eller, managing director for Firestone PR agency Public Strategy Inc, insisted that 'at no time did we attempt to influence this bill in any way. We were very supportive of these measures, and we communicated that.'

Nonetheless, the final bill represented a markedly lesser threat to the industry than the original.

According to AAM VP of communications Gloria Bergquist, measures in the legislation (which sources close to the talks said was undergoing post-congressional fine-tuning as PRWeek went to press) were overly vague and cumbersome and needed to be changed, hence the public affairs efforts.

The original bill called for criminal charges to be brought against any 'agent' of an auto company who knowingly sold a defective product. The term 'agent' worried many in the industry as being overly vague.

It further required manufacturers to provide data on all police-reported crashes worldwide. According to Bergquist, there are 17,000 of these every day in the US alone. 'We would have had to forklift the information to Congress,' she said.



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