Ford dismisses Trump claim it will fire U.S. employees

Michael Martinez
The Detroit News

Ford Motor Co. President and CEO Mark Fields took to national television Thursday to denounce Donald Trump’s latest reaction to the automaker moving small-car production to Mexico.

The Republican presidential candidate early Thursday slammed Ford’s decision as a “disgrace,” and insinuated the company would “fire all of their employees in the United States” as it shifts production of the unprofitable and small-margin vehicles south of the border.

Fields later told CNN in an interview, “It’s really unfortunate when politics get in the way of the facts. Ford’s investment in the U.S. and commitment to American jobs has never been stronger.”

When asked if the move of the Focus and C-Max from Michigan Assembly to Mexico would result in any U.S. job losses, Fields responded, “Absolutely not. Zero.”

Trump’s comments came the day after the Dearborn automaker confirmed that all remaining small-car production will move to Mexico in the next two to three years. The last small cars it produces in the U.S. are made at the Michigan Assembly Plant in Wayne, but will end production there in 2018.

Ford announced last year it would stop building those vehicles in the U.S. in 2018, but until now had not confirmed where they would go. Earlier this year it announced plans to build a new $1.6 billion assembly plant in San Luis Potosi, Mexico, which would be a likely destination for the Focus and C-Max. It has said it will employ 2,800 at the new Mexican plant by 2020.

“Basically when they make their car, and they think they’re going to get away with this, and they fire all of their employees in the United States; they move to Mexico,” Trump said on Fox News’ “Fox & Friends.” “When that car comes back across the border into our country that now comes in free, we’re going to charge them a 35 percent tax. And you know what’s going to happen? They’re never going to leave.”

Fields said Thursday the Focus and C-Max would be replaced by “two very exciting new products.”

The Detroit News first reported last year that Ford wants to replace one of the two cars in Wayne with the Ranger midsize pickup, and Bloomberg has said the Bronco SUV also could be built in Wayne.

Trump has on multiple occasions vowed to impose up to a 35 percent tariff on any Mexican-built Ford cars the automaker tries to sell in the U.S. Fields declined to say if that action would stop Ford’s plan if Trump is elected and manages to push the tariff through Congress.

“There’s lots of hypotheticals,” he said. “We have to run our business on what we know today.”

Since 2011, Ford has invested $12 billion in U.S. plants and created 28,000 U.S. jobs. It also promised the United Auto Workers to create or retain about 8,500 new jobs over the next four years as part of its new contract with the union signed last fall.

But Ford, along with most other major automakers, has ramped up investment south of the border in recent years. In addition to the new car plant, Ford is spending $1.1 billion to expand an engine plant in Chihuahua and another $1.2 billion to build a transmission plant in the Mexican state of Guanajuato that is projected to employ 2,000 by 2018.

The company says Mexico ranks fourth among countries where it makes its vehicles for global customers — behind the U.S., China and Germany.

“Ford has been in the United States for more than 100 years,” a spokeswoman said in a statement. “Our home is here. We will be here forever.”

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Twitter: @MikeMartinez_DN