Toyota CEO: Don’t ditch NAFTA
York Township — With an executive order that would withdraw the U.S. from the North American Free Trade Agreement looming, Toyota Motor North America Corp. CEO Jim Lentz joined other U.S. auto industry leaders in saying the trade deal shouldn’t be tossed out.
“NAFTA has been around a long time, and it probably needs to be modernized, (but it) has been positive overall for America,” he said Thursday during a roundtable discussion before the grand opening of Toyota’s expanded research and development center outside Ann Arbor.
But Lentz said every part of the trade deal should be re-examined. For example, the NAFTA Rules of Origin, policies that levy lower tariffs on goods originating from the U.S., Mexico or Canada, could use updating.
“This is going to be kind of a once in a lifetime opportunity to take a look at what has been a good treaty, and figure out what makes sense today,” Lentz said.
Those comments reflect others made and repeated by Ford Motor Co. around potential executive orders from the Trump Administration.
“We think NAFTA has overall made the industry much more competitive,” Ford CFO Bob Shanks said recently. “Could it be reformed? Sure. Of course. It can be improved. It can be modernized, so we support that.”
President Donald Trump singled out Toyota and Lentz during a visit to Michigan in March. Trump turned to Lentz, and said, “You have to build plants here. I know I gave you a hard time but you have to build them here.”
That came before a speech in which Trump told those gathered at Willow Run Airport to “Buy American and hire American.”
“That’s exactly what Toyota is,” Lentz said Thursday, adding that 71 percent of what Toyota sells is made in North America. “We don’t necessarily disagree with his philosophy. In fact, it’s a philosophy we’ve followed in the 60 years we’ve been in the U.S.”
Toyota on Thursday officially opened its expanded and revamped research campus in York Township off Platt Road. The $154-million expansion relocated employees from California, Arizona and Kentucky to Michigan, and added 135,000 square feet and a slew of technology improvements to the facility
The project included construction of two new buildings in York Township: a new prototype facility for vehicle development and a supplier center. The expansion enlarges Toyota's powertrain development facility on its Ann Arbor Township campus.
Toyota recently announced a $1.33 billion investment to retool its Georgetown, Kentucky, factory where its Camry sedans are built. The company has plans to invest $10 billion in the United States over the next five years.
The Associated Press contributed.