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Howes: Big Three’s meeting with Trump marks a “golden opportunity” for auto industry

Jan 24, 2017

The CEOs of the Detroit Three automakers had breakfast with President Trump this morning. On the agenda today: creating jobs and reducing regulations.

It’s a “golden opportunity” for the auto industry, said Daniel Howes, Detroit News business columnist.

That’s even though Detroit automakers took a lot of heat from Trump throughout his campaign.

“They go out there with the president tweeting this morning that he would like to see more jobs and more plants in the United States, but really some of the stuff we’ve heard coming out of this so far is all about cutting corporate taxes, working together on instituting more sensible – in air quotes – regulations,” Howes said.

He noted that "sensible" is in the eye of the beholder.

“But I think you’re more likely to get agreement between a Trump administration and the auto industry on certain kinds of regulations than maybe between the Obama administration and the auto industry,” he said.

At the meeting today, Trump said the following:

“We’re bringing manufacturing back to the United States bigly. We’re reducing taxes very substantially and we’re reducing unnecessary regulations. We want regulations, but we want real regulations that mean something.”

To the executives sitting around the table with Trump, Howes said that statement means “opportunity.”

“They see that they have a potential ally in the White House in ways that they didn’t have with President Obama,” he said. “And I know people immediately jump to the fact that [Obama] saved the Detroit auto industry – and that’s true. He did, with taxpayer money, but then proceeded with a lot of policy thereafter to layer a lot more regulations…”

Of course, environmentalists are not jumping up and down at the thought of fewer regulations. 

“Look, nobody is suggesting, at least not in the auto companies – and I certainly didn’t hear the president say it – that 'hey, we’re going to throw environmental regulations out the window,'” Howes said. “But regulation adds a lot of cost to a vehicle, and a lot of things add cost. The one, I think, unanswered question here is to what extent the White House tries to put pressure on the auto companies to actually build plants in the United States.”

For more, including why people in the investment community get nervous at the prospect of new plants, and what automakers are saying about Trump’s decision to withdraw from the Trans-Pacific Partnership, listen above.

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