Trump Targets Ford Ahead of Michigan Primary

March 7, 2016, 8:05 PM UTC
Republican U.S. presidential candidate Donald Trump speaks to supporters during a campaign rally in Warren, Michigan, March 4, 2016. REUTERS/Carlos Barria - RTS9BR8
Photograph by Carlos Barria — Reuters

Ford Motor Co. has been one of Donald Trump’s favorite punching bags since his presidential campaign kicked off last June.

The GOP frontrunner has repeatedly criticized the U.S. automaker for its plan to build a $2.5 billion engine and transmission factory in Mexico. He’s used Ford as a symbol of both outsourcing and the decline of manufacturing. Trump has promised to slap a 35% tax on cars, trucks, and parts that the company makes in Mexico and ships into the United States.

That rhetoric has become particularly important as Trump appeals to voters ahead of the Michigan Republican primary scheduled for Tuesday. A newly released poll from Marist, NBC News, and the Wall Street Journal found for Trump with a wide lead in Michigan. The survey also found that 41% of likely Republican primary voters chose Trump as their first choice candidate, 19 points ahead of Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, who came in at 22%.

Michigan is one of several Midwestern states that have supported Democrats in recent presidential elections. Trump hopes to change that. He’s appealing directly to blue collar workers—many of whom work in the auto industry—in an effort to turn Michigan back into a red state.

“Mexico is the new China,” Trump said during a rally on Friday at Macomb Community College in Warren, Mich., referring to the loss of U.S.-based manufacturing jobs to foreign countries with lower wages. He later called Mexico a “total disaster for the car industry.”

Trump talked about Ford throughout his speech, promising once again a 35% tariff on the company despite pressure from lobbyists.

“Within 24 to 48 hours, I will get a call from the head of Ford and he will say, ‘Mr. President, we have decided that we will build our new plant in the United States,'” Trump remarked.

Ford’s response to Trump’s speech mirrors CEO Mark Fields’ comments during a Fortune Brainstorm Tech event in January. Fields largely dismissed Trump’s comments as shady politics and then tried to set the record straight by noting the company has invested more than $10.2 billion in its U.S. facilities since 2011. The company, which has 80,000 U.S. employees, recently said it will invest $9 billion in its U.S. plants over the next four years.

Trump will likely ignore Ford’s investment in the United States and instead focus on the company’s plans to add 500,000 units of annual Mexican capacity starting in 2018, the WSJ reported in February.

Ford is hardly an outlier in its push towards Mexico. The global automotive industry, which has had a presence in Mexico for decades, has expanded its footprint in the country in recent years. Today, Audi, BMW, Daimler, Honda, Nissan, Toyota, and Volkswagen (VLKAY) all have factories in Mexico. Kia’s first assembly plant in Mexico will open this year.

General Motors (GM), another Michigan automaker that has escaped Trump’s wrath, is investing $5 billion to double Mexican capacity by 2018.

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