Trump: ‘Build new plants in Michigan'

Melissa Burden, and Ian Thibodeau
The Detroit News

Ypsilanti Township — President Donald Trump pushed domestic and foreign auto executives for more U.S. jobs and new manufacturing plants here Wednesday, even as auto sales appear to be receding from record levels in 2016.

During a roundtable with industry officials, Trump mentioned General Motors Co.’s Wednesday announcement that it will add or retain 900 jobs in Michigan. “That’s going to be peanuts to the numbers that we’re going to see in the near future,” he said.

Trump repeatedly stressed to the CEOs and senior leaders of 11 automakers, three suppliers and United Auto Workers President Dennis Williams that he wants to see automakers “build new plants in Michigan and other states.” He said that’s going to bring “thousands of jobs.”

He talked with leaders from American, German, Japanese and South Korean automakers, with a backdrop of giant American flag and 10 American-made vehicles in an aircraft hangar. Trump told them he would reopen a review of a fuel economy mandate to achieve the equivalent of 54.5 miles per gallon by 2025.

In the about 25-minute roundtable, he said the administration would work with them on reducing regulations and taxes, but he wanted to see new jobs.

“I know you’re competitors, and you’ll always be competitors, but we’re all on the same side on … keeping jobs in America and creating new jobs in the United States,” Trump said at the American Center for Mobility.

He urged new plants, not just expansions, and “modern plants, like you’re building in Mexico.”

“We want to have new plants built in Michigan, and new plants built in Ohio, and new plants in Pennsylvania and North Carolina and so many other locations,” Trump said.

“We’re going to make thousands and thousands and thousands of additional cars. And we’re going to make them in the United States,” he said.

He echoed the push for auto jobs in a speech that ran about 18 minutes to hundreds of autoworkers who were bused from across Metro Detroit. He even teased another auto industry announcement next week but wouldn’t give any specifics.

“We want to be the car capital of the world again,” Trump said. “We will be, and it won’t be long, believe me. ... We’re going to have a very big announcement next week having to do with your industry. Very, very big. Very important.”

At one point in the roundtable, the president turned to Jim Lentz, chief executive of Toyota North America, and said: “You have to build plants here. I know I gave you a hard time but you have to build them here.”

“I understand,” Lentz said. “I understand.”

But Lentz after the speech said Trump’s demand that auto companies add more U.S. manufacturing jobs and factories might be tough for some.

“If you take today as a starting point, that may not be fair to all companies,” he said.

Toyota didn’t lay off a single U.S. factory worker during the recession in 2010, Lentz said. The company has since hired 8,000 people in America and invested $5 billion on American factories. The automaker plans to spend another $10 billion over the next five years to improve those plants, Lentz said.

“Buy American and hire American,” Trump said during his speech at Willow Run Airport, adding that it is a pledge he plans to keep.

The president told a mixed crowd of salaried and hourly workers from General Motors Co., Fiat Chrysler Automobiles NV and Ford Motor Co. that he would fight to keep automobile production in the United States, often eliciting cheers.

Automakers requested the review of the gas mileage mandate after Obama officials finalized the rules a year ahead of time in the last days of the Democratic administration.

“The assault on the American auto industry is over,” Trump said. “Believe me, it’s over.”

The president made clear that he thought the Obama administration overstepped by finalizing fuel rules.

“If the standards threatened auto jobs, then common-sense changes could have and should have been made,” Trump said.

Fiat Chrysler CEO Sergio Marchionne told reporters after the event he is glad the midterm review has been reopened and the process will go through as intended. He said the fuel economy and carbon dioxide emissions targets can be met, but at a price.

“The question is … the economic impact of the technology,” he said. “I think at the end of the day, the question is, ‘Can a consumer afford to pay for all the technology in the car?’ ”

But during the round table discussion, the UAW’s Williams said he is worried about environmental standards for the automobile industry.

“We all agree with you 100 percent. One hundred percent. We want you to make great cars but if it takes an extra thimble of fuel,” the administration wants the industry to do it, Trump said.

Before the speech, Trump toured a display of 10 cars and trucks with Ford CEO Mark Fields, GM Chairman and CEO Mary Barra, Marchionne, Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder and Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao. Barra and Williams sat on the each side of Trump during the roundtable, with Marchionne and Fields close by.

The UAW’s Williams pushed the president, saying more U.S. auto factory workers also should be UAW members.

“We want the workers to rise, too,” he said.

“Some things never change,” said Trump, nodding and smiling.

Prior to the speech, some industry employees said they were looking forward to hearing in person from the president — who has frequently called on U.S. automakers to increase stateside manufacturing.

The Trump supporters included Bruce Sims, an engineer at Fiat Chrysler’s Sterling Stamping Plant who is also the shop chairperson for UAW Local 412 in Warren, He was wearing a red “Make America Great Again” hat.

“We want to hear about the free trade, we want to hear about the regulations he’s trying to lift that will help us out,” Sims said.

The federal government needs to shape fuel economy standards that balance the needs of the economy and the environment, he said.

“We want to keep the Earth, but we also want to keep jobs in America,” Sims said.

Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette was walking through the crowd, talking with other attendees. He said he would meet later with the president.

“The fact he’s going to have a rewrite of these job-crushing, paycheck-crushing emission rules that the Obama administration tried to do at the midnight hour ... that’s a breath of fresh air for jobs and paychecks in Michigan,” Schuette said.

Twitter: @Ian_Thibodeau