7 Most Misleading Trump Statements About the Auto Industry

An In-Depth Look At The Trump Auto Industry Half-Truths

Updated November 13, 2018

Donald Trump certainly does his personal part to support the U.S. auto industry. His impressive fleet of more than 100 vehicles has included Cadillacs, Chevrolets and even, according to his campaign in 2015, a Tesla. And our new president has been using Caddy limos since the 1980s.

“I like the car I’m in now. It’s a Chevrolet Suburban. Made in the U.S.A.,” Trump told the Detroit News last year.

But Trump’s also owned numerous import autos: multiple Rolls-Royces and Mercs, a Ferrari, and a ’97 Lamborghini Diablo he put up for sale in September.

Even before he began his presidential bid, Trump had plenty to say (and tweet) regarding the state of the American industry under President Obama. Specifically, he’s blamed American automakers for planning to move U.S. production to Mexico and China, and the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA, which was co-signed by fellow Republican president George H. W. Bush in 1994) for costing thousands of U.S. autoworkers their jobs.

Only not all of Trump’s statements about the American auto industry have been entirely accurate. Here are seven of his most “creative” automotive moments.


He Will Bring The U.S. Auto Industry “Roaring Back”

In a speech he made in Detroit on August 8, 2016 trumpeting his campaign’s economic policies, then-Republican presidential nominee Trump predicted “Detroit – the Motor City – will come roaring back. We will offer a new future, not the same old failed policies of the past.” Only American automakers (and dealers) had already “roared back” from the 2007-2008 financial crisis, with total U.S. auto sales hitting a record 17.5 million vehicles in 2015 and expected to remain close to this, or even grow, in the near future. Sure, many of the cars sold here are the products of foreign manufacturers, but U.S.-based car companies have also benefitted (and many of overseas automakers have stateside factories).


Annotated speech:


NAFTA Has Reduced The Number Of U.S. Autoworkers

In that same Motor City speech, Trump declared: “According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, before NAFTA went into effect, there were 285,000 auto workers in Michigan. Today, that number is only 160,000.” While his numbers are roughly correct (in 1980, Michigan’s automaking and auto-parts plants employed around 280,000 compared with about 165,000 as of September 2016, according to the Associated Press), his wording is misleading in implying that this dramatic decrease is directly related to NAFTA. Indeed, in the six years immediately after NAFTA’s introduction, the number of Michigan autoworkers increased by some 40,000, before wilting due to increased factory automation, loss of market share, and the Great Recession (and then partially recovering after the federal bailouts). Furthermore, Trump omits that many auto jobs were simply relocated to other U.S. states while, under NAFTA, foreign automakers such as Honda, Nissan and Toyota also built new plants elsewhere in America.


Annotated speech:


He Dissuaded Ford From Moving A Factory To Mexico

“I worked hard with Bill Ford to keep the Lincoln plant in Kentucky,” Trump tweeted on Nov. 17 last year, followed the next day with: “Just got a call from my friend Bill Ford, Chairman of Ford, who advised me that he will be keeping the Lincoln plant in Kentucky – no Mexico”. While it’s true that, according to company spokesperson Christin Baker, Ford was “encouraged the economic policies [Trump] will pursue will help improve U.S. competitiveness and make it possible to keep production of [the Lincoln MKC] here in the U.S.”, the specifics of Trump’s statements are flawed. According to the Washington Post, Ford has never announced plans to move to Mexico either of its Kentucky plants, one of which produces the Lincoln MKC and Ford Escape, but rather had told Trump it would cancel a plan to shift production of a single model — the MKC — from Kentucky to Mexico. Furthermore, union leaders said the shift would not cost any Kentucky jobs, because Escape production would replace lost MKC production.



Toyota Is Building A New Plant In Mexico To Build U.S.-bound Corollas

In a January 5 tweet, Trump exclaimed: “Toyota Motor said will build a new plant in Baja, Mexico, to build Corolla cars for U.S. NO WAY! Build plant in U.S. or pay big border tax.” Only, according to Business Insider, Toyota already builds the Corolla in the U.S. (in Mississippi), and the planned Mexico plant would shift Corolla production from Canada, not from the U.S. Also, Toyota’s new Mexican plant will be in Guanajuato, not Baja (where it has operated a factory since 2002). Furthermore, according to Business Insider’s Matthew DeBord, “Toyota can no longer afford to profitably expand Corolla production in the US. Building a new factory to assemble Corollas would likely mean tenuous, even speculative, new jobs that would be created to construct a vehicle whose sales, while considerable, are declining in the US relative to crossovers and SUVs”.



Ford Is Moving Jobs From Michigan To Mexico

In the first Trump-Clinton presidential debate, on Sept. 26 last year, Trump stated: “Our jobs are fleeing the country. They’re going to Mexico. They’re going to many other countries. … Ford is leaving … thousands of jobs leaving Michigan.” Yet, according to the Associated Press (AP), Ford’s plans to shift its small-car production from Wayne, Michigan to Mexico would not cost any U.S. jobs, as the Wayne plant’s 3,700 employees would simply shift to building a new SUV and pickup truck instead. Trump contends that jobs could have been added in the U.S. if Ford had built its new small-car facility here rather than south of the border but, according to AP, Ford explained that it is almost impossible for it to make money on building small cars stateside.


Annotated debate:


GM Is Moving Jobs From The U.S. To Mexico

Continuing his “automotive jobs moving to Mexico” theme, on January 3 this year Trump tweeted: “General Motors is sending Mexican-made model of Chevy Cruze to US car dealers-tax free across border. Make in U.S.A. or pay big border tax!” But in a statement, GM fired back: “All Chevrolet Cruze sedans sold in the U.S. are built in GM’s assembly plant in Lordstown, Ohio. GM builds the Chevrolet Cruze hatchback for global markets in Mexico, with a small number sold in the U.S.” General Motors told CNBC it sold about 190,000 Cruzes in the U.S. in 2016, of which around 4,500 of those (equivalent to 2.4 percent) were made in Mexico.



Chrysler Is Sending All Jeep Manufacturing To China

Trump’s questionable tweets about the auto industry are nothing new. Back when he was billed in the media as simply a “New York developer”, in November 2012, Trump tweeted: “Obama is a terrible negotiator. He bails out Chrysler and now Chrysler wants to send all Jeep manufacturing to China–and will!” Chrysler’s Vice President of Design at the time, Ralph Gilles, promptly replied, also on Twitter, “@realDonaldTrump you are full of shit!”, while his boss, CEO Sergio Marchionne, made a more considered response in a reassuring email to Chrysler employees a few days later. See, according to the Wall Street Journal, Trump was alluding to ads by then presidential contender Mitt Romney’s campaign which stated, accurately, that Chrysler was intending to build Jeeps in China – only Trump failed to mention that the company was also investing in expanding stateside Jeep production and planning to hire more workers in the process.






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