Trump: ‘Halted mandates that crippled autoworkers’

Keith Laing
Detroit News Washington Bureau

Washington —President Donald Trump said Tuesday that he has “halted government mandates that crippled America's autoworkers” during his first State of the Union address.

Speaking to Republican and Democratic lawmakers, Trump singled out automakers such as Chrysler, Toyota and Mazda for planning to open new auto plants in the United States. The creation of auto factories was one of Trump’s big campaign promises, something he reminded automaker executives about when he met with them in March for a roundtable discussion that included the United Auto Workers president.

“In Detroit, I halted government mandates that crippled America’ great, beautiful autoworkers -- so we can get the Motor City revving its engines again, and that’s what’s happening,” Trump said.

“Many car companies are now building and expanding plants in the United States -- something we haven’t seen for decades. Chrysler is moving a major plant from Mexico to Michigan. Toyota and Mazda are opening up a plant in Alabama -- a big one -- and we haven’t seen this in a long time. It’s all coming back.

“Very soon, auto plants and other plants will be opening up all over the country. This is all news Americans are totally unaccustomed to hearing -- for many years, companies and jobs were only leaving us. But now they are roaring back. They’re coming back. They want to be where the action is. They want to (be) in the United States of America. That’s where they want to be.”

The auto industry started its comeback after President Barack Obama forced General Motors and Chrysler to go through bankruptcy protection in 2009 to clear out debt. Obama and former President George W. Bush floated nearly $80 billion in loans to Chrysler, GM and their lending arms of which $9.26 billion wasn’t repaid.

Auto sales recovered from the recession, setting a historic streak of seven consecutive years of increasing sales and hitting a record of 17.55 vehicles in 2016 . Sales slipped 1.6 percent to 17.2 million last year and are expected to fall further this year but remain high by historic standards.

Republican U.S. Rep. Bill Huizenga of Zeeland welcomed Trump’s emphasis on the economy and auto industry.

“When he’s talking about getting Detroit’s engines revving again, you know you’re getting a lot of thumbs up throughout the state,” Huizenga said.

Rep. Paul Mitchell, R-Dryden, said Trump did a “fine job,” highlighting the president’s shout-out to Fiat Chrysler’s shifting heavy truck production from Mexico to Michigan.

But Rep. Sander Levin, D-Royal Oak, noted that despite Trump’s talk about industry returning from Mexico, the South Korean automaker Kia has decided to expand production 40 percent in Mexico.

“It reminded me of one of his campaign speeches. That kind of manipulation. I was angry but also sad,” Levin said.

“This presidency has been so much witnessed by telling lies, by essentially incorporating values of dishonesty and disrespect of others. It was still hard for me to believe he represented the best in America.”

Trump has taken a carrot-and-stick approach to the auto industry since taking office. He pledged to focus on boosting manufacturing jobs early in his term, bringing chief executives from Detroit’s automakers to Washington for a White House meeting in his first weeks in office.

He has also threatened of “border taxes” for automakers who build cars in Mexico and singled out companies for production plans that called for building smaller vehicles outside of the country. The president is currently trying to renegotiate the North American Free Trade Agreement.

Earlier this month, Fiat Chrysler Automobiles NV said it would invest $1 billion at its Warren Truck Assembly plant to bring production of its Ram Heavy Duty truck to the United States from Mexico. The the move would add 2,500 jobs in Metro Detroit by 2020, when the plant retooling is completed, the automaker said.

It followed Trump’s demand that the automakers “build new plants in Michigan and other states” to create “thousands of jobs.”

The president also has criticized leaders from countries such as Germany and South Korea for selling cars in the United States while American carmakers struggle to gain a foothold in their back yards, and encouraged Japanese automakers to build more cars domestically – which most of them already do.

Trump’s auto push has produced few results so far beyond an initial crop of production plans that were in some cases in place months before the election.

In March 2017, Trump announced he was reopening a review of Obama-era fuel economy rules when he visited the future testing site for self-driving vehicles at Willow Run.

The Obama administration in its waning days locked in standards requiring automakers to produce car and truck fleets averaging 54.5 miles per gallon by 2025.

The automakers signed off on the levels in 2011 in part because the mid-term evaluation would ensure the standards were appropriate based on market conditions. The companies said a year ago that they were too costly, especially since smaller and electric vehicles weren’t selling well.

The industry asked the Trump administration to reinstate the review of fuel economy regulations, saying the Obama administration acted prematurely in cutting the review short a year ahead of the April 2018 deadline.