Trump urges U.S. automakers to make big push for new plants

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By David Shepardson and Roberta Rampton

<span class="articleLocation”>U.S. President Donald Trump pushed the chief
executives of General Motors Co, Ford Motor Co and
Fiat Chrysler Automobiles NV on Tuesday to increase
production in the United States and boost American employment.

Trump opened a meeting with GM CEO Mary Barra, Ford CEO Mark
Fields and Fiat Chrysler CEO Sergio Marchionne at the White
House by saying he wants to see new auto plants built in the
United States.

The new Republican president vowed to cut regulations and
taxes to make it more attractive for businesses to operate in
the United States. He promised frequently during his election
campaign to be a job-creating president and stressed that
message in his inaugural speech last Friday.

“We have a very big push on to have auto plants and other
plants – many other plants,” he told reporters at the start of
the meeting with auto executives. “It’s happening.”

The meeting was the latest sign of Trump’s uncommon degree
of intervention for a U.S. president into corporate affairs as
he has repeatedly pressured automakers and other manufacturers
to “buy American and hire American.”

Marchionne told reporters after the meeting that Trump did
not give them specifics on what regulations he would cut.

GM, Ford and Fiat Chrysler have all announced recent new
jobs and investments in the United States, but are still
investing in Mexico. Fields said automakers wanted to work with
Trump to create a “renaissance in American manufacturing.”

“We’re very encouraged by the president and the economic
policies that he’s forwarding,” Fields told reporters, praising
Trump’s decision to withdraw from the Trans-Pacific Partnership
agreement, which Fields said did not address intervention in
currency valuations by trading partners. “As an industry we’re
excited about working together with the president,” he said.

Barra said there was a “huge opportunity” to work together
with the government to “improve the environment, improve safety
and improve the jobs creation.”

Trump has criticized automakers for building cars in Mexico
and elsewhere and has threatened to impose 35 percent tariffs on
imported vehicles.

GM said in 2014 it would invest $5 billion in Mexico through
2018, a move that would allow it to double its production
capacity, and Barra has said the automaker is not reconsidering
the plan.

Earlier this month, Ford scrapped plans to build a $1.6
billion plant in Mexico and said it would instead invest $700
million in a factory in Michigan. Ford will still move
production of Focus small cars to Mexico from Michigan, but will
cut total production of the cars by consolidating their assembly
in an existing Mexican plant.

U.S. automakers have been reluctant to open new U.S. auto
plants in recent years, but they have expanded operations at
existing U.S. plants. GM and Ford last built new U.S. assembly
plants in 2004, while Fiat Chrysler opened a new transmission
plant in Indiana in 2014.

FLATTENING AUTO SALES

With flattening U.S. auto sales and some excess capacity,
U.S. automakers may be reluctant to agree to open new plants,
which likely would not come online for several years.

Tuesday’s meeting included the former Republican governor of
Missouri, Matt Blunt, who heads a U.S. automaker trade
association. Vice President Mike Pence, White House chief of
staff Reince Priebus and other senior administration officials
also attended the meeting.

Auto stocks rose on the meeting. U.S.-listed shares of Fiat
Chrysler rose 6.3 percent to $10.93, up 0.65, while Ford was up
1.6 percent and GM rose 1.3 percent.

Tuesday’s gathering was the first time the CEOs of the big
three automakers have met jointly with a U.S. president since a 2011 session with Barack Obama to tout a deal to nearly double
fuel efficiency standards by 2025. Fiat Chrysler is the
Italian-American parent of the former Michigan-based Chrysler.

Automakers have urged the Trump administration to rethink
those aggressive fuel efficiency mandates.

Barclays auto analyst Brian Johnson said in a note Tuesday
that he thinks “automakers will be willing to make a deal that
would bring back jobs to the U.S. (whether by voluntary
commitments or tariffs or border taxes is less clear) in return
for a slower ramp of (fuel efficiency) targets and related
state-level mandates.

U.S. and foreign automakers have been touting plans to boost
American jobs and investments in the face of Trump’s comments.
Trump, a New York businessman, often singled out Ford’s Mexico
investments for criticism during his election campaign.

While automakers are adding U.S. jobs they are also cutting
U.S. small car production. On Monday, GM ended two shifts of
production of small cars in Ohio and Michigan, cutting about
2,000 jobs. (Additional reporting by Susan Heavey)



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