Trump demands jobs after signaling fuel economy relief
Employees work on a Cadillac CTS on the production line at General Motors' plant in Lansing, Michigan, the United States. [Photo/Agencies]
President of the United States Donald Trump is laying out an explicit quid pro quo for automakers: He'll cut them a break on environmental standards and wants more hiring in return.
"You need to come back and give us big numbers in terms of jobs," Trump told the chief executive officers of General Motors, Ford Motor and Fiat Chrysler Automobiles NV on Wednesday.
The Obama administration's decision to preserve its fuel economy rules "would have destroyed, or further destroyed, the auto industry".
Carmakers will now get another year to dispute the fuel mileage and emissions standards, which will be further scrutinized by the Environmental Protection Agency and National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
The companies cried foul over the EPA failing to collaborate with them and expediting a review of the requirements in the final days of Obama's term.
Trump's move to nullify the ruling of Obama's EPA marks a victory for carmakers including GM, Toyota Motor and Volkswagen, which argued the standards are out of step with market realities.
Low gasoline prices have spurred record demand for SUVs and pickups, and dragged on demand for electric vehicles and fuel-sipping passenger cars.
GM seized on Trump's announcement, made during a stop through Detroit's suburbs, by saying it will add 220 new jobs at a transmission plant and retain another 680 workers in the state.
Some positions will be filled or preserved by workers laid off at an SUV factory. The hires were planned before Trump took office, spokesman Pat Morrissey said.
"I told them 'that's peanuts'," Trump told a crowd of workers, referring to GM's job announcement.
"We're going to have a lot more. They're going to be building new plants, expanding their plants. My administration will work tirelessly to eliminate the industry-killing regulations, to lower the job-crushing taxes and to ensure a level playing field for all American companies and workers."
During the meeting with executives, Trump also reiterated a demand that Toyota make cars in the US in an exchange with Jim Lentz, CEO of Toyota Motor's North American operations.
Footage on the White House's official YouTube account showed Trump saying, "You've got to build those new plants here."
Toyota will work with the Trump administration to "support policies that help grow our economy, reduce the impact on the environment and serve the best interest of consumers," Kayo Doi, a Tokyo-based company spokeswoman, said in an emailed response to a request for comment following the meeting.
The lower fuel economy standards could lead Fiat Chrysler to invest more in Jeep SUV and Ram pickups produced in the US, CEO Sergio Marchionne told Bloomberg Television.
The Obama administration's attempt to short-circuit the review of fuel economy rules was "offensive," he said.
Electric-vehicle maker Tesla Inc's stance mirrors the Obama administration's - that the mileage and emissions standards are attainable.
"The recent success of auto manufacturers in responding to the growing demand for electric vehicles is proof that the nation's current fuel economy standards are practical, achievable and having their intended effect," a spokesman for the automaker led by Elon Musk said in an emailed statement.
Carmakers will make their case on the fuel economy standards to new EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt, who's downplayed how much humans contribute to climate change.
The agencies will restore the original timeline the Obama administration and auto industry agreed to, which was to determine by April 2018 whether standards for 2022 through 2025 are feasible.
"We still support the direction the program is taking us, although some adjustments might be necessary," said Tom Stricker, vice-president of product regulatory affairs for Toyota in North America.
Factors including cheap gasoline prices have changed since the rules took effect, which is "the exact reason both sides agreed to a midterm review in the first place".
Automakers agreed in 2011 to fuel economy standards set by the US Transportation Department and greenhouse gas emissions rules decided by the EPA and California's Air Resources Board.
They call for companies to boost the fuel economy of their fleets to an average of more than 50 miles per gallon by 2025.
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