In the second of two interviews at this year's North American International Auto Show, Original Equipment Suppliers Association (OESA) president and CEO Neil De Koker talked to Simon Warburton. De Koker represents 410 companies with global automotive sales of US$300bn and outlined his views on the US political environment for OESA, oil prices and the effects of the Japanese earthquake.

 j-a: This month has seen the US Presidential election start to gain momentum? To what extent will the auto sector feature in political campaigning and how do you influence decision makers in Washington?

NDK: "For this year's political agenda, the auto industry is not top of mind. Today there is virtually no talk about saving the auto industry.

"We have a Washington summit in February [where] we will have 140 top executives from a number of companies go on the Hill to talk about the importance of the auto industry and the kind of job creation we have.

"When there is legislation or regulation is being considered, our views are sought out. They [politicians] know a very large percentage of innovation and research and development takes place."

j-a: To what extent does the US government drive new legislation for the car industry?

NDK: "The solutions to these regulations will come from the suppliers. Under the Republican administration there has been less tendency to push for fuel economy regulations, but under the current administration, they want 34mpg by 2016 [and] 54.5mpg by 2025.

"These are the most dramatic increases in emissions fuel economy regulations in our history

j-a: How do fuel cost fluctuations affect the US automotive sector?

NDK: "We have been trying to advocate for years that a fuel tax on gasoline would maintain a higher price so we could build smaller vehicles like in Europe. As long as prices are low, people will want larger cars.

"If the price was more consistent, we think the [demand] for vehicles would be more predictable. I professionally have talked about [this] for 30 years.

"If it were a minimum of US$4 per gallon, we would know for certain more efficient vehicles would be the only vehicles we would buy. If you look at Canada where it is US$1 [more], the average vehicle is one size smaller than the US.

j-a: Does OESA collaborate with other similar umbrella supplier organisations?

NDK: "We interface with a number of international bodies. We have a tri-lateral meeting every year with CLEPA [Europe] and JAPIA [Japan]. We review our positions on various policies that...affect us globally.

"The reason is, for example, Delphi has a strong presence in Europe, so they are a member of CLEPA [and] OESA and there are many companies like that, such as Denso, which is a member of the three.

"We are broadly similar but CLEPA was created as an association of associations. As a result, they don't [get] involved with the same commercial issues we do - CLEPA is more like our Washington office."

j-a: You mentioned Japan - how has the supplier base reacted in your opinion to last year's devastating earthquake?

NDK: "In November I went to Japan and went through the earthquake area and observed at first hand to see a number of suppliers, to see the degree [to which] they were turning it around. I was amazed at the recovery from a business standpoint.

"We did a survey immediately after the event and asked our members how many were affected. We held a town hall meeting on 4 April and had representatives from the Japanese government.

"Our impact was not nearly as severe as some of the Japanese OEMs and suppliers. Overall, our members were able to handle it but it did take some time. You can't have a 100% back [up] for everything to counter every crisis.

"Who would have guessed there was one electronic manufacturer that provided a certain chip to 40% of the vehicles in the world that was in the earthquake region of Japan? It shows the inventive capability of certain companies and more power to them."

j-a: Has the earthquake changed supplier-OEM relationships?

NDK: "There is a lot more interest in supply chain management then there ever has been. The OEMs are adamant they want suppliers to be financially secure."

j-a: Could the US administration do more to help suppliers?

NDK: "There are a number of things the government steps into more and more and we believe more regulation just handicaps manufacturing industry. We strongly advocate for our government to carefully weigh the impact of any regulation and legislation to manufacturing competivity.

"We need a manufacturing policy that recognises the priority and impact of manufacturing for our nation's competitiveness.

"The Senate has been a real block. We need the two parties to work together to effectively get anything done. We have fundamental disagreements on what national energy and manufacturing policy should be.

"Pass laws that make sense and are cost-effective and can be readily adhered to - that kind of stuff can be very frustrating.