During his 2016 campaign, President Donald Trump made many promises about American manufacturing jobs. In his quest to “make America great again,” Trump spoke of a time when General Motors was the world’s largest corporation and the country’s biggest employer.
Of course, things have changed since the 1950s, when GM was at its peak. Nonetheless, Trump said he would fight for the American auto worker by putting America first and taking action against companies that expanded overseas. His threats made headline news; his promises to the heartland made him a winner in Michigan and Ohio.
Now that he’s won the presidency and keeps repeating those promises, auto workers and small business owners likely expect Trump to deliver. After all, you can’t take a job “seriously, but not literally.” People either get new jobs, or they don’t. An industry either grows, or it doesn’t. To see how he’s done, we checked on Trump’s promises to the auto industry and counted how many he kept.
1. New American auto plants
Shortly after his inauguration, Trump met with the leaders of Detroit automakers General Motors, Ford, and Fiat Chrysler. He repeated his campaign promise about manufacturing plants, Reuters reported. “We have a very big push on to have auto plants and other plants — many other plants,” he said. “It’s happening big league.”
But as the Trump administration nears one year on the job, there have been no announcements of new factories from any American automakers. Industry experts told Reuters it would take at least three years and cost over $1 billion to build such a plant. GM and Ford haven’t added plants since 2004; Fiat Chrysler’s most recent plant opened in 2014.
Toyota did announce plans to open a plant in America in 2021. However, the Japanese auto giant will first open a plant in Mexico, a project slated for 2020.
Promise kept? Not yet. New plants haven’t come and won’t anytime soon.
2. Auto jobs will grow
“We’re going to use the full economic powers of our country to protect our workers and to protect our jobs,” Trump said in March at an auto industry event in Michigan. It was nothing new. Over the past few years, Trump repeatedly said he would use his business connections and mastery of negotiations to jump-start the manufacturing sector.
Unfortunately for workers counting on new jobs, they have not come back to America. For the few hundred jobs saved at various plants, Detroit automakers have cut 10 times as many.
Ford confirmed plans to cut 1,400 members of its salaried workforce in May. Since the election, GM has eliminated 5,000 jobs, mostly in Ohio and Michigan. And Fiat-Chrysler has kept pace, laying off 3,200 Toledo workers in February. It was a nice photo op at the White House for Detroit’s CEOs, but they apparently had no intention of playing along.
Promise kept? Not close. U.S. automakers cut over 9,000 jobs since Trump became president.
3. Tax reform to boost manufacturing
In addition to the big manufacturing push he mentioned to automakers in January, Trump promised tax reform and regulation reductions that would help auto workers indirectly. “We’re reducing taxes very substantially,” he said. The idea is automakers would save so much on taxes they would open new plants and hire new employees.
As of mid-October, the fate of tax reform hangs in the balance of a divided Republican Congress. Following Trump’s feud with Tennessee Sen. Bob Corker, a fellow at the conservative Heritage Foundation put the vote count at “about 48” in the chamber. That would leave the caucus several votes short before negotiations began.
Promise kept? Not yet. Capitol Hill observers don’t believe it can pass.
4. The death of NAFTA
Trade was a hot topic for Trump throughout his campaign for president. “I’m going to rip up those trade deals, and we’re going to make really good ones,” Trump said in March 2016, referring to NAFTA and TPP. He argued a hard-line stance would be the key to reducing trade deficits. “We will actually have better relationships with Mexico and better relationships with China; they’ll respect us,” he said.
By August, it became clear NAFTA would continue with some renegotiated points. As Trump used threats to influence the negotiations, he received criticism from Kevin Brady, the Republican congressman who chairs the Ways and Means Committee. “I think the rhetoric, the words from the president matter, so I’d like to see that take a different approach in tone,” Brady said during the negotiations.
In October, Trump’s words again had a negative effect on talks with Mexico and Canada. However, the administration’s demands doomed the entire discussion. The National Association of Auto Dealers and U.S. Chamber of Commerce both came out strongly against Trump’s proposals, saying it would raise the price of cars in America.
Promise kept? Not. NAFTA is alive and won’t be ripped up.
5. Imported cars will get huge taxes
If you ever look at Twitter (or the news outlets that now cover it on their beats), you know Trump comes out with guns blazing there. He’ll come after former presidents, foreign leaders, GOP senators, ESPN anchors, governors, mayors, entertainers, the speaker of the House, and anyone else who might enter his mind. So naturally he has attacked various automakers about cars made overseas.
General Motors is sending Mexican made model of Chevy Cruze to U.S. car dealers-tax free across border. Make in U.S.A.or pay big border tax!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) January 3, 2017
He has promised it wouldn’t happen on his watch. At his March rally in Michigan, Trump said, “Plenty of things were stopped in their tracks. A lot of bad things were going to happen.” That line likely referred to a planned expansion by Ford in Mexico. In both cases, the automakers did not change their plans. GM continued importing the Cruze hatchback from Mexico; Ford moved Focus production to China instead.
Promise kept? Not. Automakers continued importing cars from Mexico and other countries without a border tax.
6. ‘We’re gonna be the car capital of the world again, and it won’t be long’
Trump made this grand statement at a campaign-style rally in early 2017. According to Bloomberg, U.S. auto production set another type of milestone this year. For the first time in history, less than 50% of the automobiles made in North America were made by Detroit’s Big Three (General Motors, Ford, and Fiat Chrysler). As manufacturing work has slipped, U.S. corporations have also experienced slides.
In fact, former Ford CEO Mark Fields did not survive the first year of the Trump presidency. Would the chief executive of the nation’s second largest automaker be fired in the auto capital of the world?
Promise kept? Not. Foreign automakers now make more cars in America than the Big Three.
7. Areas hurting from the recession will rebound
Mark Muro, a senior fellow at The Brookings Institution, told The Hill that over 60% of manufacturing growth since the Great Recession came from the auto industry. However, as sales have slowed and layoffs returned in 2017, there appears to be little room for growth in areas like the South and Midwest.
Both areas voted for Trump in large margins in the 2016 election, with many people drawn to campaign promises about job growth. Muro pointed out the auto industry “shed jobs in 45 of the nation’s 100 largest metropolitan areas” between summer 2016 and the middle of 2017. When manufacturing jobs go, so do the service jobs in the area, and that’s no way to rebuild a hurting community.
Promise kept? Not. If auto industry work peaked in 2016, the only way to go is down.
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