Four years of trade wars, tweets and fights over emissions regulations under President Donald Trump have fractured the auto industry's once-reliable unified front.
Now, facing a potential Joe Biden presidency that promises more onerous policies on climate change and other issues, automakers are being urged to come together in defense of common interests.
"The industry is more divided than I've seen it in my lifetime," Representative Debbie Dingell, a Michigan Democrat who has endorsed Biden, said in an interview. "There's competitive issues that drive that, but if they're not together on those issues, they're going to be in trouble."
A Biden administration would be likely to restore aggressive Obama-era emission targets that Trump has tried to roll back. In addition, the former vice president would likely put more of Washington's focus on electric and autonomous cars going forward to ensure American autoworkers build "the vehicle of the future." An extension of the $7,500 per EV tax credit is more likely if Biden becomes president, according to Bloomberg Intelligence.
Conversely, four more years of Trump would see a continuation of efforts to rollback auto mileage standards and revoke California's power to issue its own standards.
"As always as we go through an election period, we've got to sure we're paying attention to what might change and what might stay the same and be a resource," said John Bozzella, president and CEO of the Alliance for Automotive Innovation. "Our role is to be a resource and educate and we want to be a resource to every candidate."
As much as anything, the carmakers say they want certainty on matters such as trade and mileage rules. Detroit has been apprehensive about asking for direct handouts in the midst of the pandemic. Instead, they have asked for targeted measures like declaring dealerships essential services during the initial shutdowns and loan guarantees.
"Here's the reality: After the 2008 loans to the industry, nobody want to talk about autos for a decade," Dingell said. "It was a brutal time. There were a lot of tough conversations."
The election comes at a difficult time for automakers. Market research firm Cox Automotive forecasts the industry will finish 2020 having sold only 13.9 million cars in the U.S., a 16% drop compared with 2019.
Trump's contentious battle with California officials over the state's ability to regulate its own tailpipe greenhouse gas emissions caused a fissure among automakers, with General Motors Co., Toyota Motor Corp. and Fiat Chrysler Automobiles NV backing Trump and splitting with major rivals including Ford Motor Co.