Trump Threatened to Pull GM’s ‘Subsidies’ Over Plant Closings. But There’s One Question: What Subsidies?
President Donald Trump has made it abundantly clear that he disapproves of GM’s plan to close eight North American plants and lay off 15% of its salaried workforce. “They say the Chevrolet Cruze is not selling well. I say, well get a car that is selling well and put it back in,” he told reporters after the news broke. He also said he had told GM CEO Mary Barra to open up a new facility in Ohio and stop making cars in China.
Then on Tuesday, Trump upped the stakes—and knocked 2.6% off GM’s stock price—by tweeting that his administration was “looking at cutting all GM subsidies, including for electric cars.”
That’s potentially problematic for GM, whose restructuring plan is largely intended to help it clear the way for an electric-centric, autonomous-vehicle future.
Or at least, it would be problematic if GM received federal subsidies.
According to CNN’s unnamed sources who are “familiar with the matter,” the only subsidies associated with GM’s cars are the tax credits that consumers get for buying electric—GM doesn’t get that cash, and in any case it’s not an initiative that’s specific to any one car manufacturer.
If Trump did mean the removal of tax credits for GM’s electric cars, that is something he would not be able to achieve without congressional approval—and again, it would have to be a change hitting the whole industry, not just GM.
When contacted by Fortune, GM did not comment on the president’s threat or indicate whether it receives federal subsidies.
The automaker has tangled with the president before, being one of the companies that warned the White House about the business impact of the steel and aluminum tariffs that the administration introduced earlier this year. Such tariffs are designed to hurt other countries by dampening their exports, but they achieve that aim by raising costs for U.S.-based companies and consumers that buy the imported goods in question.
GM said in June that the trade war could lead to a “smaller GM,” and the White House dismissed the warning as “smoke and mirrors.” GM then started offering buyouts to 18,000 workers, before moving on to the plant closures announced this week.
The restructuring isn’t all due to tariffs though—indeed, GM did not cite the trade war as a factor in its announcement. Rather, the company said it was responding to broader shifts in the auto industry towards electric, driverless vehicles that require fewer mechanical engineers and more software-wranglers. The company was also saying goodbye to sedan models that have become far less popular than trucks and SUVs.
This story has been updated to reflect a GM response to Fortune‘s request for comment.