Car Talk: GM’s Barra to Sit Down With Trump Thursday

General Motors CEO Mary Barra will meet with U.S. President Donald Trump and White House officials on Thursday to discuss the state of the automotive industry, trade issues, and the fuel economy rollback. We imagine it’ll go much differently than their first meeting in Washington.

Perpetually concerned with economic threats arising from China, Trump has come down hard on automakers in the past. These days, his favorite punching bag happens to be GM. The automaker’s strong presence in China has forced it to make commitments there. On this side of the Pacific, the automaker has shuttered production facilities in Michigan, Ohio, and Maryland while continuing to manufacture vehicles in Mexico — something the UAW has been exceptionally critical of going into contract negotiations. 

GM was chosen as the initial target in the latest round of UAW-Detroit Three bargaining. While the automaker’s industrial footprint in the U.S. is much larger than in Mexico or China, boasting more factories and a bigger workforce, it’s been an ongoing issue. The UAW has been particularly critical of the Chevrolet Blazer, arguing the crossover could have been produced in America at a time when GM was deciding to close Lordstown Assembly in Ohio.

That’s left the union with a strange ally in the president. His problems with General Motors (and other automakers) seem to echo UAW’s concerns perfectly. However, one wonders how productive his talk with Barra can actually be after seeing some of his comments going into it.

“General Motors, which was once the Giant of Detroit, is now one of the smallest auto manufacturers there. They moved major plants to China, BEFORE I CAME INTO OFFICE,” Trump tweeted last week. “This was done despite the saving help given them by the USA. Now they should start moving back to America again?”

Soon, every media outlet on the planet caught the gaffe and published information we already know — GM is actually one of the biggest automakers on the planet. However, after spending over an hour wondering what made him think otherwise, we think we may have an answer. Based on the tweet’s timing, it seems likely that Trump was referencing a Bloomberg study that showed GM now employs fewer union-represented American workers than either of its domestic rivals.

Previously the country’s largest employer, General Motors’ domestic endeavors shrunk as the company became more of a global entity. It was also bloated going into the 2008 financial crisis. Before filing for bankruptcy in 2009, GM was furiously spinning off parts of the business in a bid to save itself. Once the time came to bite the financial bullet, it cut thousands of workers and closed numerous plants. While not facing the same economic hardships in 2019, GM is presently in the midst of a widespread restructuring effort — this time with the aim of future-proofing itself.

According to Reuters, the White House says the meeting with Barra will take place Thursday afternoon in the Oval Office, but neither General Motors nor Washington seems willing to hint at the topics to be covered. Negotiations with the UAW will, undoubtedly, be brought up. Existing contracts expire on September 14th and GM will likely face the brunt of the union’s wrath. Trump will almost certainly ask Barra why GM can’t keep more of its business inside the U.S., as it’s something he’s harped on continuously since taking office. He’s also previously asked GM not to join Ford and a handful of other automakers in backing a deal with California for stricter fuel economy standards against the backdrop of his administration’s rollback attempt.

shared from TTAC