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Donald Trump gets it wrong about Ford's Mexico move

Sep 17, 2016

Facts detailing how the global auto industry operates shouldn’t muck up the campaign between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump. Nor should they slow the candidates’ flailing efforts to score cheap political points in the industrial Midwest, right?

Yet, this week, Trump predicted the Dearborn automaker will “fire all of their employees in the United States” because it’s ending small car production in Michigan. And a CNN anchor actually asked Ford CEO Mark Fields whether the allegation is true.

Seriously?  No wonder Fields says it’s, quote, “really unfortunate when politics gets in the way of the facts.”

Reality simply doesn’t support Trump’s cockamamie narrative flogging Ford’s year-long small cars-to-Mexico story.

The Blue Oval has created 28,000 jobs in the United States over the past five years. It has invested $12 billion in U.S. facilities. It produces more vehicles in U.S. plants, and it employs more hourly workers here than any other automaker. That includes cross-town rival General Motors.

Since the restructuring during the global financial meltdown, Ford concentrated manufacturing and product development in the Midwest. It reinvested in heartland plants, even as it bolstered operations in Mexico. It announced plans for a decade-long renovation of its headquarters campus.

And Ford is still controlled by a family that takes the family part seriously. They’re all for allocating capital globally — but not at the expense of the country that birthed the industrial icon and produces most of its profits. Just ask them. 

Ford could have dispatched this story a year ago. That’s when The Detroit News first reported that the automaker would be shipping production of its Michigan-built Focus, C-Max and hybrids outside the country. Likely to Mexico.

Brilliant, Dearborn. Nothing like handing a rhetorical club to a guy eager to use it. Doesn’t matter to Trump — or Clinton — whether the stubborn facts ruling today’s auto industry support their uninformed version of the real world. 

It should. Here are some:

The United States is not “losing’ more than 4,000 jobs at Michigan Assembly in Wayne because Ford will build small cars in Mexico. The number of union jobs lost in the States because of this should be zero.

Why do you think Ford’s Mexico move wasn’t a strike-worthy issue with the UAW last fall? Because union leaders and the rank-and-file know how the industry works … far better than the smart people running for president.

Second, Ford wouldn’t be shipping its small cars south of the border if more customers wanted those vehicles. But customers don’t need small cars to get economy in a world of two-plus-dollar-a-gallon gas, surging American energy production, and the increasing fuel-efficiency of new crossovers and SUVs.

Third, automakers competing in the United States can’t actually choose whether to build compacts and subcompacts. The government essentially says they must build them, and hybrids, to meet tough fuel economy targets by 2025 — irrespective what the market wants. 

Ford and its global competitors are in the business to make money. They understand the politics of production and jobs better than the two people running for president understand the auto industry — and that’s a problem around here.

Daniel Howes is a columnist at The Detroit News. Views expressed in his essays are his own and do not necessarily reflect those of Michigan Radio, its management or the station licensee, The University of Michigan.