Donald Trump swaggered into Michigan yesterday to talk about the American auto industry - one of many subjects in which he is no way familiar.
He announced that he was going to review and likely roll back corporate average fuel economy (CAFE) standards that sets a benchmark of 54.5 miles a gallon by 2025. This means less incentive for automakers to develop hybrid vehicles, and electric and fuel-cell models, as well as cars like the Chevrolet Volt (ironically, one of the many cars Trump looked at while in Michigan), and, oh yes, less of an incentive to produce small cars.
My next car may have to be a gas guzzler, because that's all I'll be able to buy.
The domestic automakers are, of course, pleased that the CAFE standards are likely to be reversed, because that means they'll be able to avoid responsibility for making environmentally friendly products and be able to continue making cheap, crude SUVs and pickups and underdeveloped sedans rather than come up with more innovative cars that can compete in the market more effectively.
"There is no more beautiful sight than an American-made car," said Trump, who's obviously never seen a Porsche. He promised that Detroit would "once again shine with industrial might" and decried the "massive shipments" of foreign cars dumped on American consumers. Oh yeah, while in Michigan, he'd had a round-table discussion with car company executives that, in addition to General Motors CEO Mary Barra and Ford CEO Mark Fields, also included Sergio Marchionne, the CEO of the Italian company that owns Chrysler (Fiat Chrysler Automobiles), as well as Nissan North America Chairman Jose Munoz (Nissan - a Japanese company owned by Renault of France) and Jerry Flannery of Hyundai (a South Korean company). Trump said of the foreign automakers with plants in the United States, "We love them too." Not too many of them have American facilities in Michigan, though.
Trump was essentially promising to bring the auto industry in the U.S. back to 1950s levels, even though back then there had been little industrial competition from overseas and looser regulations that discouraged continuous improvement and encouraged flashy, superficial model changes - thus, Detroit ended up using rudimentary technology that persisted will into the 1980s. He also said that the assault on the American auto industry is over, leading me to wonder what he was talking about. Because as I recall, it was Barack Obama who saved GM and Chrysler by investing taxpayers' money in them (which got paid back to the government) and helping them through bankruptcy, preserving thousands of auto jobs and many other jobs connected to the auto industry.
Trump also promised that, under his Presidency, Detroit would become "the car capital of the world again." Umm, didn't he realize that, again, Chrysler is a subsidiary of an Italian company and that, umm, GM just sold all of its European assets to a car company based in France? Is that how Detroit becomes the car capital of the world - with Ford being the only U.S.-based car company having something resembling a truly global presence?
One thing is for certain - given Trump's history in business, we should be glad that he never ran a car company. And I'm sorry Tesla founder Elon Musk - a South African immigrant - can't run for President. Because he's a CEO I'd vote for!