Ten automotive executives met with President Donald Trump this week, hoping to find ways to increase domestic production and mitigate the coming changes to corporate fuel economy regulations. The meeting, held in the White House’s Roosevelt Room, included General Motors’ Mary Barra, Ford’s Jim Hackett and Fiat Chrysler’s Sergio Marchionne. While a large portion of the event was spent discussing the administration’s attempt to roll back established fuel economy rules, Trump was focused on returning manufacturing jobs to the United States.
The president noted that FCA’s decision to spend $1 billion in order to expand truck assembly in Michigan made Marchionne more appealing than his contemporaries. “Right now, he is my favorite person in the room,” Trump said.
Presumably, Barra and Hackett were only slightly injured by the president’s endorsement. Sergio is probably a lot of people’s favorite, and his Italian swagger and charming candidness are totally undeniable. Think about which of those three you’d want to talk about cars with over drinks if you have any doubts.
However, Trump’s praise wasn’t the result of Marchionne being a far cooler customer than his square peers. It was because FCA is taking truck production out of Mexico and putting it back into the U.S. Earlier this year, Fiat Chrysler announced it would invest over $1 billion to update and expand the company’s Warren Truck Plant in Michigan. Expected to create around 2,500 American jobs, the deal would move heavy duty Ram production out of Mexico by 2020.
The facility will also build the Jeep Wagoneer and Grand Wagoneer, with Ram 1500 production shifting fully to Sterling Heights. Jeep assembly stands to see investment, with cash going toward production of the new Jeep Wrangler pickup in Toledo, Ohio. The decision has made Sergio fairly popular in the Midwest.
Following FCA’s January investment announcement, Macomb County executive Mark Hackel said the area was “extremely grateful for FCA and Sergio making that commitment … I can’t wait to give him a big hug at the auto show.”
Mexico’s Saltillo truck assembly plant will soon be repurposed to produce vehicles for global markets. Quoted by Reuters, Marchionne reiterated that plan before his meeting with the president. “I think we have to redirect the Mexican production to a global market,” he said. “I think there are things we can do but it’s part of a longer-term plan.”
Sergio also said he agreed with the White House’s efforts to revise vehicle fuel-efficiency rules to account for the growing popularity of larger vehicles. He hoped for an “agreed way forward” on the matter, likely referencing the issue with California, and claimed to support most of the U.S. proposals for automotive rules under the North American Free Trade Agreement.
NAFTA wasn’t the primary topic of the meeting, however — fuel was. The general agreement among automakers, according to the Detroit Free Press, was that they were in favor of softer fueling standards. However, nobody seemed interested in fighting with California and allied states who want to maintain Obama-era standards. Carmakers said they would prefer a cohesive national standard, if possible.