Ford in ‘constant communication’ with Trump team

Michael Wayland
The Detroit News

Los Angeles — Ford Motor Co. has been in “constant communication” with Donald Trump’s transition team since the election, with CEO Mark Fields sending a congratulatory letter to the president-elect. Fields declined to directly comment if Trump, who criticized Ford throughout his electioni campaign for the company’s investments in Mexico, responded to the letter.

Fields said that any protective tariffs pushed through by Trump would hurt the U.S. auto industry and the general economy.

“We have had conversations with the transition team,” he said Tuesday after a speech at the Los Angeles Auto Show’s AutoMobility LA conference. “I’ve sent a congratulatory letter to the president-elect and we look forward to working with the new administration and the entire newly-elected Congress.”

The automaker, including Fields, went on the defensive several times during the presidential election, attempting to defend the automaker’s Mexico investment and to correct statements Trump made about the automaker shuttering plants domestically to move production south of the border.

Trump repeatedly used as campaign talking points the announcements by Ford it would invest billions in Mexico and move production of the Ford Focus and C-MAX from its Michigan Assembly Plant in Wayne to Mexico.

Fields on Tuesday said the company has no changes to its plans, citing, as he has in the past, that Ford will add “two very exciting products that will be coming into the Michigan Assembly plant.” Those products, as reported by The Detroit News and other media outlets, are the Ford Ranger pickup and Ford Bronco SUV.

Trump has indicated he would end the trade pact with Canada and Mexico and slap a 10 percent to 35 percent tariff on vehicles and parts made in Mexico that are imported into the U.S. He also has threatened tariffs of up to 45 percent exported from China to the U.S.

Fields on Tuesday said a tariff such as that on Mexico “could have a huge impact on the U.S. economy.” He said he continues to “be convinced that the right policies will prevail, because I think we all share the same objective, which is a healthy and vibrant U.S. economy.”

Fields said that Ford maintains its stance on fair trade and supports legislation on currency manipulation, fuel economy regulations being aligned with market realities, comprehensive tax reform and the safe adoption of autonomous vehicles.

“We have a proven track record of working with policymakers going all the way back to Teddy Roosevelt, when we were first formed,” he said. “So we expect to work very efficiently and positively with the president-elect administration as well as the new Congress.”

Speaking on CNBC from Los Angeles, Fields reiterated that a 35 percent tariff would affect “the entire auto sector and that would impact not only the auto sector here in the U.S., it’ll impact the economy in general. So we have to take all those things into consideration.”

Trump also during the campaign blamed NAFTA for many manufacturing job losses and said he wanted to re-negotiate the pact or kill it.

Fields told CNBC that Ford laid out its corporate strategy, including its manufacturing footprint, based on the trade agreements.

“Obviously, a new Congress and the president could look at everything. But keep in mind, both the production and supply chains are deeply integrated between the three countries. And that integration also supports a lot of American jobs,” Fields said. “So we’ll see how this plays out, We just want to lay out those facts.”

Carmakers have banked on using low-cost Mexican labor for small-car production, which has lower profit margins. Automakers, including the Detroit Three, have announced more than $24 billion in Mexican investments since 2010, according to the Center for Automotive Research.

Fields also indicated to CNBC that he is open to changes to the fuel economy mandates that currently call for automakers to meet a 54.5 miles per gallon level by 2025. He said he hopes the mid-term review in 2018 will consider market realities.

“We want to make sure it’s fact-based, that it’s right for consumers, that it’s right for the industry,” he said.

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Twitter: @MikeWayland

Staff writer Melissa Burden contributed.