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Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump renewed his attacks on Ford Motor Co. during Monday night’s debate, suggesting the North American Free Trade Agreement is responsible for the Dearborn automaker’s shifting of small car production to Mexico.

The New York businessman’s jab early in the debate with Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton prompted a response from Ford on Twitter, reiterating that its move wouldn’t cost any American jobs.

“So Ford is leaving, 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,” Trump said.

Ford has said its shift of small car production within two to three years will not result in the loss of any Michigan or U.S. jobs. The Dearborn automaker plans to assemble two new vehicles at its Michigan Assembly plant, where small cars are currently built.

“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 tweeted that it has created 28,000 U.S. jobs in the past five years as a result of investing $12 billion in its American factories.

Trump has made the renegotiation of the North American Free Trade Agreement one of his signature campaign issues.

If talks to redo the trade pact with Canada and Mexico were unsuccessful, the New York real estate mogul has told The Detroit News that he would scrap the agreement and try to enact a tariff as low as 10 percent or as high as 35 percent on vehicles and parts made in Mexico and imported into the United States.

He has said the tariffs would be a form of “retribution” for automakers like Ford Motor Co. and others that move production of cars and trucks south of the border.

Automakers now pay no tariff on cars and trucks imported or exported to Canada and Mexico.

During the debate, Clinton also reiterated her desire to overhaul NAFTA but did not criticize Ford. She has not been as specific as Trump in indicating what consequences there would be if NAFTA isn’t renegotiated.

In mid-September, Ford similarly defended itself when the Republican presidential nominee insinuated the company would “fire all of their employees in the United States” as it shifts small car production to Mexico.

“It’s really unfortunate when politics get in the way of the facts,” Ford CEO Mark Fields told CNN. “Ford’s investment in the U.S. and commitment to American jobs has never been stronger.”

Ford plans to build a $1.6 billion assembly plant in San Luis Potosi, Mexico, where the Dearborn automaker confirmed in mid-September it plans to build all small cars within two to three years. Ford is stopping production of the Focus and C-Max at its Wayne plant in 2018.

The Dearborn-based automaker has said it will employ 2,800 at the new Mexican plant by 2020. Ford also is spending $1.1 billion to expand an engine plant in Chihuahua and another $1.2 billion to build a transmission plant in the Mexican state of Guanajuato that is projected to employ 2,000 by 2018.

The exodus of small cars to Mexico is a result of automakers managing costs for low-profit vehicles that consumers have shunned in an era of $2-per-gallon gas. If demand ever shifts back to small cars, analysts say U.S. workers who mostly build trucks and sport utility vehicles are safe because large vehicles today are more fuel-efficient than in the past.

The company does not assemble its trucks in Mexican plants, but Detroit Three rivals General Motors Co. and Fiat Chrysler Automobiles do have truck assembly plants in Mexico. Ford has recently moved some truck production from Mexico to the United States.

clivengood@detroitnews.com

(517) 371-3660

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