Tom Lehner, Bridgestone Americas: According to Big Boss
Government affairs also support innovations to improve the automotive industry.
From Toyota to the Motor and Equipment Manufacturers Association (MEMA) to Bridgestone Americas, Tom Lehner has a decade of experience in the automotive industry. Now, as the Vice President of Government Affairs for Bridgestone Americas, Lehner prioritizes the company’s success through regulations and policies, as well as advocates for the needs of its dealers and customers.
“I focus on regulatory, legislative and public policy issues that impact the company,” Lehner says. “It’s my job to engage on issues such as the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement and determine how they will impact the Bridgestone business in Canada.
“My experience [at MEMA] serves me well in my new role with Bridgestone. It gave me great perspective on not just the tire industry, but the automotive and transportation industry as a whole.”
The task at hand
One of Lehner’s priorities is the new United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA), which, if ratified, will replace the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). USMCA increases environmental and labour regulations and encourages and provides incentives for more domestic production of cars and trucks, amongst other things.
“I am currently focused on working with our tire and automotive industry stakeholders to see that the U.S. Congress ratifies the new trade agreement between the U.S., Canada, and Mexico. Ratification of this treaty is important for Canada (and the U.S. and Mexico) so our industry remains a competitive and growing market for our products,” says Lehner.
NAFTA will remain in effect until its members ratify the USMCA.
Challenges to come
Customers, fleets and dealers are all demanding an increase in innovation, especially as the landscape of the transportation industry continues to evolve. This is seen through the increased focus on vehicle electrification and on autonomous vehicles.
“We are seeing the transportation industry move toward autonomous vehicles, which leads tire manufacturers to rethink the products they are providing to support this changing vehicle [landscape]. The focus is on everything from reducing rolling existence to increasing fuel economy and maximizing uptime. My job is to continuously monitor regulatory and public policy issues that will either help or hinder us from meeting these changing demands of our dealers and customers.”
With innovation comes the need to upgrade trade policies, which is a primary concern from a government relations standpoint. “The market is dynamic and changes by the day, so it keeps everyone on their toes,” Lehner explains. “For example, just in my short time at Bridgestone so far, changing market dynamics have increased the price of raw materials and manufacturing, which affects dealers and customers.”
According to Lehner, part of the job of the Government Relations team at Bridgestone is to try to anticipate and help the company countermeasure the changing markets as quickly and as efficiently as possible.
A second challenge that seems to be becoming predominant within the automotive industry is workforce development, though Lehner says there is a huge opportunity here for improvement. However, “identifying, retaining and recruiting manufacturing and retail employees” continues to be a challenge that many companies are facing. “And as the pace of change in the industry accelerates, this will continue to evolve,” he concludes.