Bill Ford told Trump ‘facts’ on Mexico expansion

Keith Laing
Detroit News Washington Bureau

Washington — Ford Motor Co. Executive Chairman Bill Ford told a Washington, D.C., audience on Wednesday he has met with Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump to discuss Trump’s criticism of the company’s decision to move small-car production to Mexico.

Ford said he told the GOP nominee that his company should be applauded for expanding into Mexico without cutting jobs in Michigan.

“I would like to think Ford is everything that should be celebrated about what’s right with the country,” Ford said during an appearance at The Economic Club of Washington, D.C. “We didn’t go bankrupt, we paid back our loans, we did it the old fashioned way. We pulled ourselves up by our boot straps.”

Ford said he isn’t sure if the message got through to the bombastic GOP nominee and reality TV star, however.

“I had a very good meeting with him. He’s a very good listener, and he knows the facts, but who knows what the campaign trail is all about. I certainly don’t,” Ford said.

Ford told reporters after the event that Trump was “very thoughtful” during their face-to-face encounter, adding that the billionaire “asked good questions.”

Trump’s campaign didn’t immediately respond to requests for comment on the meeting with Ford. According to Reuters, a person briefed on the matter said the meeting happened during the summer at the Trump Tower in New York City. Ford also has invited Trump to visit its Dearborn world headquarters.

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

“So Ford is leaving,” Trump said at the first presidential debate last week. “You see that, their small car division leaving. Thousands of jobs leaving Michigan, leaving Ohio. They’re all leaving. And we can’t allow it to happen anymore.”

The company responded via Twitter during the debate, saying it has created 28,000 U.S. jobs in the past five years as a result of investing $12 billion in its American factories.

“Ford has more hourly employees and produces more vehicles in the U.S. than any other automaker,” the automaker tweeted a few minutes after Trump’s comment.

Ford said Wednesday that the Republican nominee has his facts wrong on the Dearborn company’s decision to move small car production to Mexico.

“We’re not losing any jobs in Michigan because we’re putting new vehicles into those plants,” Ford said. “That’s what so frustrating and at a certain point infuriating about this. I feel like we’ve not only invested heavily in this country and are adding lots of news jobs in this country. But I think he and others should look at us and say, ‘That’s how you do business.’ ”

Separately on Wednesday, Ford said that his company is preparing for massive changes in the auto industry with the advent of self-driving cars.

“The notion of autonomous driving is not science fiction. It’s coming and it’s coming soon,” he said. “There will be no steering wheel, there will be no pedals, so you can sit anywhere you want.”

Ford said his company would be “disruptive at every level” as the technology used in the auto industry evolves. But he added that the transition period when autonomous vehicles are being tested also presents challenges.

“The world that we’re talking about now won’t happen overnight and it won’t happen all at once,” he said. “We’re going to have straddle both for a while. We’re going to be doing a lot more alliances with companies that will be one off things and we may compete with them in another area.”

Ford has said it will have a fully driverless car by 2021. The company is a founding member of the lobby group called Self-Driving Coalition for Safer Streets that seeks to make sure regulations aren’t put in place that might suppress development efforts for autonomous vehicles. Other members of the group include Volvo, Google, Uber and Lyft.

Federal regulators have launched a pair of investigations of Ford vehicles this week, but Ford said his company has “a pretty good relationship” with the U.S. government.

“They take the time to understand our business,” he said, although he allowed, “there are days and weeks where it’s not so great.”

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Twitter: @Keith_Laing