Automakers, including Ford Motor Co. and General Motors Co., this week found themselves on the receiving end of tweets from President Donald Trump.
The president attacked Ford because it was one of four automakers that reached an agreement with the state of California to reduce emissions. The state wants to preserve tougher standards.
California last month billed the pact as “a voluntary framework to reduce emissions that can serve as an alternative path forward for clean vehicle standards nationwide.” The other automakers who signed on were Honda Motor Co., BMW and Volkswagen.
The Trump administration opposes the deal. The president wants to roll back Obama administration emission standards. Trump also is at odds with some automakers. The companies fear a legal fight between the U.S. government and California that may result in two sets of standards — a potential regulatory nightmare.
“Henry Ford would be very disappointed if he saw his modern-day descendants wanting to build a much more expensive car, that is far less safe and doesn’t work as well, because execs don’t want to fight California regulators,” Trump wrote in an Aug. 21 tweet.
GM is not part of the deal. However, The New York Times reported Aug. 20 that GM, Fiat Chrysler and Toyota Motor Corp. were summoned to a White House meeting seeking their support for the administration’s plan.
The Times said one of the three companies that attended the meeting “intends to disregard the Trump proposal and stick to the current, stricter federal emissions standards for at least the next four years.” That company wasn’t identified by the Times.
Trump included a volley at both GM and Ford in a separate tweet. (Historical note: William Durant was the founder of GM. Alfred Sloan took command and revamped the automaker after Durant was forced out. Also, The Associated Press has a fact check on Trump’s tweets that says, “Trump is inflating the projected savings to consumers under his plan, minimizing the potential environmental harm and may be exaggerating the safety benefits.”)
The Legendary Henry Ford and Alfred P. Sloan, the Founders of Ford Motor Company and General Motors, are “rolling over” at the weakness of current car company executives willing to spend more money on a car that is not as safe or good, and cost $3,000 more to consumers. Crazy!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) August 21, 2019
Trump also said automakers should know “when this Administration’s alternative is no longer available, California will squeeze them to a point of business ruin.”
This, of course, isn’t the first time the industry has found itself second-guessed by Trump on Twitter. Automakers were on the receiving end of tweets just before Trump took office in January 2017. More recently, the president has criticized GM for its decision to cease operations at a Youngstown, Ohio, plant.
Regardless, the stakes are larger than a few tweets.
California is the largest vehicle market in the nation. Another 13 states have adopted the California regulations. Meanwhile, automakers have other issues to deal with, including how to fund investments in self-driving and electric vehicles.
Or, put another way, the industry doesn’t want to get involved in a regulatory morass that a U.S.-California court fight could produce. But automakers may not have a choice.