Is Donald Trump really a "big customer" of Ford Motor Company, the U.S. automaker he keeps insulting from the campaign trail?
That's what he told Ford (f) CEO Mark Fields, according to comments made last night during a Fortune Brainstorm Tech dinner in Las Vegas.
Trump's rhetorical war against Ford has been a regular part of his stump speeches since the summer, focusing primarily on the automaker's plans to build a $2.5 billion factory in Mexico (plans that are still active, despite Trump's October claims to the contrary). More recently, the GOP frontrunner has said he'd slap a 35% tariff on any Mexico-made cars coming over the border (although it's unclear how he'd do that). And then there was this:
I mean, the way our country is run, if it doesn't happen to be me that wins, you know what's going to happen? They're going to build a plant and illegals are going to drive those cars right over the border.... And they'll probably end up stealing the cars.
In Las Vegas, Fields dismissed Trump's comments as shady politics, adding that the candidate was not nearly so vehement in a private conversation. Here is what Fields said, when asked about Trump's criticism ― and tax threat ― by Fortune's Adam Lashinsky:
Our view is that it's really unfortunate when facts get muddled in the fog of politics.
I actually sent him a note after he mentioned that, congratulated him on running for president and then I said, 'Okay, from one New Yorker to another (because I'm from New York), I laid out the facts: We, as a company, have invested more than $10 billion in our facilities since 2011. We have created more than 25,000 jobs since 2011. We have committed to investing another $6 billion, at least, in the next four years into our facilities and committed to actually adding over another 8,000 jobs. We are very proud of what we do at Ford Motor Co. to support economic development in the United States of America, just like in all the markets that we do business in.' The implicit message is: Let's look at the facts.
He sent me a nice note back saying, 'Thanks Mark. I'm a big customer.'
Fortune has reached out to the Trump campaign for comment, but we've not yet heard back.