Toyota says Trump sent message carmaker is ‘not welcomed’


A Toyota logo is seen at the Philadelphia Auto Show, Friday, Feb. 1, 2019, in Philadelphia. (AP pic)

SOUTHFIELD: Toyota Motor Corp rebuked President Donald Trump’s declaration that imported cars threaten US national security, signalling contentious talks are ahead for the White House and America’s key trading partners.

In an unusually strong-worded statement, Japan’s largest automaker said Trump’s proclamation Friday that the US needs to defend itself against foreign cars and components “sends a message to Toyota that our investments are not welcomed.” The company said it has spent more than US$60 billion building operations in the country, including 10 manufacturing plants.

Trump earlier on Friday agreed with the conclusions of his Commerce Department, which investigated imports of vehicles and auto parts and found they harm national security by having led to a declining market share for “American-owned” carmakers since the 1980s. The White House set a 180-day deadline for negotiating deals with Japan, the European Union and other major auto exporters.

Toyota said it remains hopeful that those talks can be resolved quickly, but warned that curbing imports would force US consumers to pay more and be counterproductive for jobs and the economy. The company’s critique comes two months after its pledge to add US$3 billion to a years-long US investment plan.

Representatives for other automakers were more diplomatic but also registered concern about the Trump administration’s saber-rattling. The Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, a trade group representing a dozen of the largest domestic and foreign carmakers with operations in the US, warned on Friday that higher prices from tariffs could put 700,000 American jobs at risk.

“We are deeply concerned that the administration continues to consider imposing auto tariffs,” the car lobby said in a statement. “By boosting car prices across the board and driving up car repair and maintenance costs, tariffs are essentially a massive tax on consumers.”

The pushback by Toyota marks a break from years of attempting to work its way into Trump’s good graces.

Days after drawing criticism from the then-president elect in January 2017 for planning to build Corolla cars in Mexico, Toyota announced a US$10 billion, five-year investment plan. In August of that year, the company said it would join with Mazda Motor Corp in building a US$1.6 billion factory in Alabama.

But all those efforts have done little to curb repeated threats by the White House to impose tariffs of as much as 25% on imported vehicles and auto parts.

“Our operations and employees contribute significantly to the American way of life, the US economy and are not a national security threat,” the company said.