UAW learns of Ford news through Trump tweet

Melissa Burden
The Detroit News

United Auto Workers leaders learned Ford Motor Co. had changed course and would not move Lincoln MKC production from Kentucky to Mexico the same way the rest of the world did: through a tweet from President-elect Donald Trump late Thursday night.

Trump indicated in a tweet that he had a hand in keeping Lincoln MKC production in Kentucky. The automaker confirmed the plans for the compact SUV, but did not respond to calls and emails on when it made its decision, or if Trump and his frequent criticism about Ford moving small-car production to Mexico had any influence on it.

The UAW and Ford, in a joint statement to Louisville employees Friday, said the company re-evaluated its plans to phase out the MKC so it could build more Escape models at the plant due to “changing business conditions.” The UAW knew the compact crossover was going to leave Louisville, but did not know where.

“We are happy to announce today that we are keeping the Lincoln MKC in Louisville Assembly Plant,” the statement said. “As you may have seen, our president-elect tweeted about this on Thursday evening after Bill Ford spoke with him and let him know of the change in plans. We want to confirm this change with you directly today.”

The initial Trump tweet said a Lincoln plant was staying in Kentucky. However, the automaker never intended to shutter Louisville Assembly, though it had planned to send production of the MKC to Mexico by the end of 2019.

Ford last year indicated moving the MKC out of Louisville was not expected to lead to any job losses.

A sign of things to come?

The tweets led many in the media and auto industry to question the president-elect. The quick tweets — sent without elaboration or with some key leaders’ knowledge — could indicate what’s in store during Trump’s presidency. The UAW, for example, was not aware the MKC was going to remain in the U.S. until Trump’s tweets and Ford’s response Thursday night.

While Trump was relatively silent on Twitter in the final days of the election, he has taken to the social media platform several times since his win, to defend work of his transition team and to criticize the press and organized protests.

“Trump has been a candidate who’s lived by his own set of facts, and it looks like that isn’t going to change when he’s president,” Larry Sabato, director of the Center for Politics at the University of Virginia, said in an email. “It’s the media’s job to correct him — but of course, most media organizations have taken a big hit and aren’t as staffed up as they once were. In addition, most of Trump’s followers seem to care less what the actual facts are. They believe anything he tells them. We’ll see whether that changes after the passage of time, especially if Trump isn’t delivering on his promises.”

The Trump-Ford development started around 9 p.m. Thursday with Trump tweeting: “Just got a call from my friend Bill Ford, Chairman of Ford, who advised me that he will be keeping the Lincoln plant in Kentucky — no Mexico.”

He then followed with a second tweet that read: “I worked hard with Bill Ford to keep the Lincoln plant in Kentucky. I owed it to the great State of Kentucky for their confidence in me!”

Ford late Thursday confirmed that Bill Ford and Trump spoke earlier in the day: “We are encouraged that President-elect Trump and the new Congress will pursue policies that will improve U.S. competitiveness and make it possible to keep production of this vehicle here in the United States. We will have more details to share on our future plans at the appropriate time.”

Ford said the automaker would “continue to engage with President-elect Trump’s team — and the new Congress — as they shape the policy agenda for 2017. We have shared our commitment to continue investing in the U.S. and creating American jobs ...”

Ford builds the Escape and MKC compact crossovers at the Louisville plant, which employs 4,700. In the automaker’s 2015 contract with the UAW, it said it would phase out the MKC in Louisville by the end of the contract, which expires in September 2019. Ford said a year ago that was so it could build even more Escapes in Louisville and it did not expect any job losses.

All in the spin

“It is all about the spin, so everyone wins!” said Jeff Schuster, senior vice president of forecasting with LMC Automotive.

Schuster said Trump can claim he saved a vehicle with production of about 40,000 vehicles a year from going to Mexico and preserved jobs, while Ford likely will continue with its plan for a new plant in San Luis Potosi, Mexico, that will produce more than 300,000 vehicles a year.

While Ford previously had not said where MKC production would go, the company confirmed late Thursday it likely was headed for its Cuautitlan plant in Mexico.

Analysts had expected Ford would shift the compact crossover to Mexico. Some analysts say a redesign of the MKC is due in mid-2019.

Ford is planning to build a new $1.6 billion assembly plant in San Luis Potosi, which is a likely destination for the Ford Focus and C-Max that are leaving Michigan Assembly in Wayne in 2018.

Even with the Lincoln MKC staying, the majority of the Louisville plant is devoted to the Escape. The automaker has sold 20,702 MKC crossovers in the U.S. through October compared to more than 258,000 Escapes.

Sales of the Escape have slowed a bit in recent months; competition in the compact crossover segment is intense. Ford recently has idled the plant to cut back on inventory, and it’s possible that was a factor in Ford’s decision to keep the MKC at Louisville.

Trump criticized Ford during his presidential campaign for plans to build plants in Mexico and shift production of vehicles from the U.S. to Mexico. Ford has said since the election that it has been engaging the Trump transition team and that it has shared its commitment to investing in the U.S.

Citing the company’s April 2015 decision to invest billions in Mexico and move production of the Focus and C-Max from Michigan to Mexico, he called for severe penalties and tariffs for automakers who send production overseas.

No jobs lost

Ford CEO Mark Fields on Tuesday had said the company had no changes to its plans for small-car production in Mexico, saying it would 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.

Ford has stressed no American jobs will be lost by its moving production of small cars to Mexico. Since 2011, Ford has added nearly 28,000 jobs in the U.S. and invested $12 billion in U.S. plants, according to Ford’s statement Thursday.

Kentucky Gov. Matt Bevin in a tweet Thursday night praised Trump for his efforts: “2 days ago, @realDonaldTrump told me he was working w/@Ford to keep smaller vehicle production in KY & in USA. Tonight they delivered...TY!”

In contrast, on Friday the Democratic National Committee claimed Trump lied in his tweets, because the plant was never going to be moved. The committee said Trump was trying to fool Americans.

Louisville officials are pleased by the production news. A spokesman for Mayor Greg Fischer said in a statement that the mayor was “glad to see Ford continuing its commitment to Louisville.”

“We are glad that Ford remains committed to keeping great manufacturing jobs in Louisville,” Kent Oyler, president & CEO of Greater Louisville Inc., an economic development organization, said in a statement.

A Trump spokesman did not return messages.

Staff writers Chad Livengood and Mark Hicks contributed.