Trump slams General Motors on Twitter with inaccurate accusations

Keith Laing
The Detroit News

Washington — President Donald Trump took aim at General Motors Co. on Friday, tweeting out inaccurate accusations that it had moved factories to China and had become one the smallest carmakers in Detroit.

"General Motors, which was once the Giant of Detroit, is now one of the smallest auto manufacturers there," Trump tweeted Friday morning. "They moved major plants to China, BEFORE I CAME INTO OFFICE. This was done despite the saving help given them by the USA. Now they should start moving back to America again?" 

“General Motors, which was once the Giant of Detroit, is now one of the smallest auto manufacturers there,” Trump tweeted Friday.

Those assertions are wrong by almost any measure. 

  • GM sold 2.9 million vehicles in the United States in 2018, outpacing the 2.4 million sold by Ford Motor Co. and the 1.7 million sold by Fiat Chrysler Automobiles.
  • GM has about 100,000 hourly and salaried employees in the United States. Ford has about 85,000 and Fiat Chrysler has about 62,000.
  • GM, in fact, has not "moved" factories to China. Most of the cars it builds there are for the Chinese market. Only one GM vehicle built in China — the Buick Envision — is sold in the United States.

The president's attack apparently was triggered after Bloomberg News reported Thursday that GM had fewer employees represented by the United Auto Workers union than Ford or Fiat Chrysler. GM has about 46,000 UAW workers in the United States, about 9,000 fewer than Ford and about 1,200 fewer than Fiat Chrysler. GM has about 2,000 fewer UAW-represented employees than that it had in 2009 as it was coming out of bankruptcy.

The White House did not respond to a request Friday for clarification about Trump's comment.

The automaker declined comment. But Michelle Krebs, senior analyst for Autotrader, said Trump mischaracterized GM's position in the industry.

"GM remains one of the largest automakers in the world," she said. "Like other automakers, GM builds vehicles where they sell them. GM builds vehicles in China for the Chinese market."

China is GM’s largest market. In 2018, the automaker and its joint ventures sold more than 3.64 million vehicles in China; in North America, it sold about 3.5 million. GM has 11 joint ventures and two wholly owned foreign enterprises and more than 58,000 employees in China. GM China products carry the Buick, Cadillac, Chevrolet, Baojun and Wuling nameplates.

"Their production efforts in China are less about trying shift production of U.S.-sold vehicles and more about trying to make money selling Chinese made products to Chinese people," said Charlie Chesbrough, a senior economist at Cox Automotive.

He said the Indian and southeast Asian markets are likely to grow significantly over the next decade, and having production capability in the area makes sense.

Trump has feuded with automakers in recent weeks over gas mileage rules and trade.

Some of the worst ire has been directed at Ford. The president is upset the Dearborn automaker reached an agreement with California to voluntarily meet higher gas mileage rules, thereby rebuking a move by his administration to roll back mpg requirements.

Trump's attacks on Ford were seen by industry observers as a bid to prevent GM and other automakers from joining the California mileage agreement, which negotiated directly between the California Air Resources Board and Ford, Volkswagen AG, Honda Motor Co. and BMW AG. 

Under the terms of the deal, the carmakers agreed to voluntarily increase the average fuel economy of their fleets to about 50 miles per gallon by the end of the 2026 model year.

Trump, meanwhile, has sent confusing and contradictory signals in his escalating trade war with China: Last week, he said he would reinstate tariffs on cars from China; by Sunday he admitted to second thoughts, after which an aide said he meant he should have raised them higher. 

Also last week, the president ordered U.S. companies to leave China before an adviser said that order would not "be exercised presently. Then on Monday, Trump said he was not "at this moment" considering fresh tariffs on Japanese cars but hastened to say he could "at a later date if I wanted to."

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Twitter: @Keith_Laing