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In a presidential campaign that’s seen Ford Motor Co. singled out for moving some production to Mexico, Executive Chairman Bill Ford Jr. defended the automaker, saying it should be held up as an example of a company that’s doing things right.

“In my mind, Ford ought to be the company that’s being held up as a real success story,” Ford told reporters after a speech Monday at an entrepreneurs’ conference in Detroit. “We didn’t take the bailout, we paid back our debts, we pulled ourselves up by our bootstraps. We’re investing in America. We’re exporting out of America. And so, I think we have a great story to tell.”

Ford Motor Co. has been the target of repeated attacks by presumptive Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump. The New York businessman on April 5 called Ford’s decision to build a $1.6 billion assembly plant in Mexico an “absolute disgrace” that would not happen if he becomes president.

Trump has said he would call the automaker on his first day in office and demand it build all vehicles in America or face a 35 percent import tariff on any Mexican-built cars it tries to sell stateside. Any proposed tariff penalty would need the approval of Congress.

The Trump attacks have drawn passionate reactions from Ford’s top executives, who have reiterated how the company last year built 80 percent of its North American vehicles in the United States — and built more cars and trucks here than any other automaker.

Bill Ford’s defense came the same day that Democratic presidential front-runner Hillary Clinton told the Service Employees International Union’s convention in Detroit that Trump’s economic policies would start “trade wars” and lead to a stock market crash. A Trump spokeswoman did not immediately respond to a request for reaction to Ford’s comments.

During the last five years, Ford has invested $12 billion in the United States and has created 28,000 jobs. In its new contract with the United Auto Workers union, the automaker committed to investing an additional $9 billion in the country through 2019.

But the developments didn’t stop Trump from singling out Ford for months on the campaign trail, after the automaker announced last year it would invest $2.5 billion in engine and transmission plants in Mexico.

In March 4 speeches in Warren and Cadillac, Trump hammered “stupid” trade policies that he said have led companies to ship jobs overseas. The country’s best business people should be negotiating those deals, the real-estate mogul said, not “political hacks.”

Bill Ford defended the North American Free Trade Agreement that covers the United States, Canada and Mexico, arguing it has allowed Ford to “build our business on both sides of the border.”

“Our U.S. manufacturing business has grown, and our Mexican manufacturing business has grown,” he said. “We think it has been a good deal.”

Executives also have defended the Mexican plant and U.S. policies by saying it’s about increasing the profitability of its small cars in a country with cheaper production costs than in the United States.

Ford’s chairman, who said Monday the nation’s political discourse has “reached a new low,” said he doesn’t think the negative attention has hurt his company’s image.

“Look, we’re about as American as you can get,” he said. “And I think people know that.”

mmartinez@detroitnews.com

Detroit News Staff Writer Chad Livengood contributed.

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