We Need to Talk About Donald Trump’s Ford Accusations

Donald Trump
Donald Trump | Scott Olson/Getty Images

Talking cars is like talking about the weather. Unless you’re talking about how great Fords are to a die-hard Chevy guy — or vice versa — cars are a great inoffensive ice-breaker. Almost everybody likes talking about their first car, or the cars they grew up in, or how great old cars were, or how they’re getting too damn expensive, or something along those lines. When you’re searching for anything to talk about but politics, cars are a pretty safe bet. You can thank us for that tip the first time you meet your girlfriend’s father.

Sometimes politics and cars do mix. What gearhead doesn’t love griping about the Chicken Tax — the ridiculously out of date law that prevents foreign automakers from importing compact trucks — and who doesn’t love the president’s limo, the Cadillac Beast? But as gearheads, we hate to see politics muddying one of the few non-partisan topics we have.

Ford World Headquarters
Ford World Headquarters | Micah Wright/Autos Cheat Sheet

But the 2016 election is unlike anything we’ve seen in modern history, and again, unfortunately, the American auto industry is a hot topic. In 2008, the industry bailouts were a justifiably substantial issue, but that’s ancient history now, and it worked out better than anyone could have imagined. Today, the industry is enjoying its most prosperous era ever, and the Big Three have finally begun to compete with imports like never before.

Issues like trade, jobs, and manufacturing are among the central issues of this election, but Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump has zeroed in on the industry — specifically Ford — and has spent the majority of his campaign making the company an unlikely focal point.

We’re not sure why he singled Ford out (FCA and GM are pursuing similar programs), but last year, it announced that it will end small car production in the U.S. within the next three years, building only crossovers, trucks, and SUVs here. Small car production would shift to Mexico, and no American jobs would be lost. But Trump has made the automaker out to be a villain, hammering it every chance he gets, most recently at the first presidential debate. While taking a stand to keep manufacturing jobs in America is, in theory, a noble pursuit, the fact is, Ford’s plan largely checks out. Trump is wrong on Ford, and we have the hard numbers to prove it. 

2015 Ford Ranger
2015 Ford Ranger | Ford Australia

Here’s what we’ve known since last November about Ford’s plan: The automaker currently offers 17 different model lines, and 11 of them are vans, crossovers, SUVs, or trucks. Aside from the Mustang (which will stay in America, along with the Lincoln Continental), the only other car models currently built in the U.S. are the Focus and the C-Max. Come 2018, their production will move from Warren, Michigan to Mexico so the Warren plant can receive significant upgrades, make room for an all-new midsize Ranger pickup, and hopefully the long-awaited return of the Ford Bronco. This was hammered out between Ford and the U.A.W., and was celebrated by most red-blooded, freedom-loving gearheads because, c’mon, new Ford Bronco. But for a candidate who’s made Mexico such a bogeyman that you’d think it was the second coming of the Soviet Union, Trump has made Ford’s plan one of his favorite “bad deals” to denounce.

Throughout his entire campaign, Trump has cited Ford as the epitome of opportunistic corporate American outsourcing. In March, he declared that he would unilaterally impose a 35% tariff on all imported cars and car parts — pretty heavy stuff for an industry where the most American-made car uses at least 10% of imported materials — defying experts who believe a move like that could ignite a dangerous trade war. If elected, Trump told a crowd in Detroit:

Within 24 to 48 hours I will get a call from the head of Ford and he will say, “Mr. President, we have decided we’re going to build our new plant in the United States.” … That’s 100% sure. … They’re going to say, “We’re moving back. You want us to move to Michigan?” And I’ll say, “Yeah.”

For most of the year, Ford remained silent on the issue, even though it briefly became a bipartisan one when Democratic primary candidate Bernie Sanders touched on it too. But after being called out in front of over 84 million people during the debate, Ford couldn’t stay silent, and responded, making its plan is clearer than ever.

2016 Ford C-Max
2016 Ford C-Max | Ford

Just minutes into the debate, Trump laid into Ford, saying:

So Ford is leaving. You see that, their small car division leaving. Thousands of jobs leaving Michigan, leaving Ohio. They’re all leaving. And we can’t allow it to happen anymore … But we have to stop our jobs from being stolen from us. We have to stop our companies from leaving the United States and, with it, firing all of their people.

Ford fired back almost immediately via twitter:


It then began clarifying its plan to mostly Trump supporters:





The responses have been somewhat predictable (“Well, why can’t you build both here?”), but at least now the facts are out in the mainstream, and hopefully this issue can be put to bed.

donald trump and ivanka trump
Donald and Ivanka Trump | Mark Makela/Getty Images

But it probably won’t be that easy. Pundits have been calling this “the post-truth era” of politics, and the bulk of Trump’s campaign seems to be built on this notion. His own campaign manager recently said that Trump can’t be held accountable for lying if he isn’t sure that his statements are true or not. The world now knows that Ford isn’t outsourcing any American jobs to Mexico. Still, we wouldn’t be surprised if this remains a campaign issue until November 8.

Whatever your politics, the truth of the matter is that we’re living in a global economy. Every major automaker is a multinational company now, with production plants, engineering centers, design studios, and proving grounds spread all over the world. That can’t be undone with a phone call, or in 24 to 48 hours, or probably at all. With current tax loopholes and Supreme Court decisions like Citizens United, corporations do have more power than ever before, and need to be held accountable.

2016 Ford GT
2016 Ford GT | Ford

We’re in an era when Americans all over the political spectrum are concerned with corporate power, greed, and outsourcing — rightfully so. Corporations should be scrutinized for unfair business practices and shady dealings. But to us, Ford has been nothing but consistent and transparent on its plan since before Donald Trump was considered a viable political candidate.

This is one of the most important elections of all time, and there are some very serious issues at hand. But Ford’s product shuffle just isn’t one of them. At this point, it feels more like a diversion than anything else. So let’s give it a rest, sit back, relax, and wait for some more news on the new Ford Bronco, OK?

Oh, and remember to vote in November.

Like classics? It’s always Throwback Thursday somewhere.