Top leaders at Ford Motor Co. on Monday spoke hopefully of a U.S. economy under Donald Trump despite an often contentious social media relationship between the president elect and some of the world’s largest auto makers.
Speaking with reporters after the Dearborn auto maker’s press conference at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit, Ford Executive Chairman Bill Ford said that he and the incoming president have discussed “trade policies, currency fluctuations, tax policy — all the things that would affect our business. And I found him to be very informed and very respectful of our position.”
Asked what the automaker’s position is, Ford replied “That’s private,” but then added that he is “very encouraged” by Trump’s position on tax policy.
“The corporate income tax rate is something that all American companies would like to see lowered, and that’s something he’s indicated he is willing to take on,” Ford said.
The U.S. statutory corporate tax rate is 35% — one of the highest in the world — yet most American companies pay far lower effective tax rates due to various deductions and loopholes in the tax code.
Bill Ford also said he is encouraged by Trump’s choice of Elaine Chao to head the Department of Transportation. Chao was previously labor secretary under president George W. Bush and is the wife of U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConell (R-KY).
Ford’s comments came after the auto maker’s flashy presentation at Joe Louis Arena featuring a remote-feed presentation by former New York Mayor Mike Bloomberg and an in-person discussion with a biographer of now-deceased Apple guru Steve Jobs about the future of mobility in increasingly dense urban environment.
Ford-owned Chariot — the app-based, ride sharing service in San Francisco and Austin, Texas — will expand this year to eight cities, including at least one global city, the company said.
The company also showed off a refreshed F-150 pickup and a new Transit Connect electric taxi while teasing out two new promised trucks with familiar names for the U.S. market: the midsized Ranger pickup and Brono SUV.
“The Bronco and Ranger are the right products at the right time for Ford. Sales of trucks and SUVs show no signs of slowing, and by reviving nameplates that customers are familiar with, they have the chance to differentiate themselves in a category that’s becoming increasingly crowded,” Jessica Caldwell,, executive director of industry analysis at the vehicle shopping site Edmunds, said.
Caldwell added that “new details about their (electric vehicle) and mobility strategy shows Ford’s commitment to meeting the needs of the entire market.”
But arguably the biggest influence on stories from this year’s Detroit Auto Show was a no-show.
In response to auto makers’ announcements on boosting U.S. investments, Trump tweeted in praise remotely of Ford and Fiat-Chrysler this morning, while the second day of the Detroit auto show got under way.
On Sunday, Fiat Chrysler Automobiles revealed plans for a $1 billion investment in its Warren and Toledo plants by 2020, with plans to create 2,000 as it rolls out a Jeep pickup and brings back the Wagoneer. Trump, whose presidential campaign included statements on bringing such jobs back to the country, said in tweets that it’s “finally happening,” thanking the auto company.
He also thanked Ford, which last week announced it is expanding its Flat Rock assembly plant with a $700 million investment, hiring 700 new hourly workers to build self-driving and electric vehicles. On Monday morning, Ford officially revived its Bronco sport-utility vehicle and brought back the Ranger mid-size pickup truck in a strategic bet on a surge of American nostalgia, hefty vehicles and low gasoline prices.
The move marks the second Ford announcement this year on locating manufacturing in Michigan after facing sharp criticism from Trump during the presidential campaign over Mexican expansion plans. The company will still move production of the Focus sedan from the Wayne, Mich. operation to Mexico, but it will be located at an existing assembly plant instead of a new $1.6 billion factory, which was canceled.
Trump is to be sworn in as U.S. president on Jan. 20.
Ford officials sought to steer their conversations away from political influences and toward the company’s new product designed to take advantage of American’s hunger for SUVs and trucks.
The Ranger, which is currently available in some foreign markets, will hit U.S. showrooms and have new styling and powertrain options in 2019. The Bronco will return to dealerships in 2020.
Ford CEO Mark Fields told reporters Monday that the United Auto Workers union leadership had been told about the company’s product plans in Michigan. The Bronco and Ranger production helps fufil product commitments made by the company as part of the last UAW contract, Fields said. The company did not immediately say how much the investment may total or whether it would require additional hiring in Michigan.
When reporters asked more questions about Trump’s influence., Fields reiterated that the company is “always going to do what’s right for our business.”
“We expect a more favorable u.s. manufacturing business environment” under President Trump. But Fields said that the company will continue as a multinational corporation committed to building and selling cars and trucks around the world.
When asked by a reporter about the possbility of a product boycotts in Mexico over the canceled plant, Fields defended the company’s ongoing investments south of the border.
Ford has “been in mexico for over 90 years,” Ford’s CEO said, adding that the auto maker employs more than 8,800 people. The plan to expand small-car Focus production in the company will net an additional 200 jobs there, Fields said.
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