Strange political bedfellows may benefit GM Lordstown

Absent a statement from President Donald J. Trump about General Motors’ decision to build the Chevrolet Blazer in Mexico and to eliminate two shifts at its assembly plant in Lordstown, we offer this tweet he posted in January 2017:

“General Motors is sending Mexican made model of Chevy Cruze to U.S. car dealers tax-free across the border. Make in U.S.A. or pay big border tax.”

Trump posted that threat just days before he was sworn in as president. Since then, he has said all the right things about American corporations having a responsibility to American workers, but his words have yet to result in any major repatriation of jobs created abroad by the auto industry.

Indeed, GM not only continues to build the Chevrolet Cruze hatchback at its plant in Ramos Arizpe, but it also will be rolling out a sleeker version of the iconic Chevrolet Blazer. The 2019 mid-size sport utility vehicle is the reincarnation of the 1994 boxy truck-like Tahoe.

It’s worth noting that the Ramos Arizpe complex is also home to the Chevrolet Sonic, propulsion systems and stamping operations. In other words, it’s an elaborate manufacturing facility.

Contrast that with what is happening at GM’s 52-year-old car assembly complex in Lordstown.

Last week, only one shift reported for duty. The giant automaker has eliminated two shifts and sent 2,700 workers packing.

Thus, just 1,500 workers are left to build the consistently top-selling compact Cruze.

The reason for the shrinking of one of the Mahoning Valley’s major employers and a key economic driver is that the high-quality, technologically advanced, competitively priced car is not selling as well as it once did.

For the past several years, consumer tastes have been changing. As the demand for SUVs and trucks grows, the popularity of the Cruze wanes.

The inventory of unsold new cars has forced GM to retrench, and that is impacting the Valley’s economic well-being.

Harsh criticism

It is not surprising, therefore, that Valley Congressman Tim Ryan of Howland, D-13th, and U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Cleveland, have harshly criticized GM for going to Mexico to build a new product, while slashing its domestic operations at the Lordstown complex, which has been hailed for its cost effectiveness.

Ryan and Brown, two of the leading advocates in Congress for the federal bailout of GM a decade ago, have demanded an explanation from Chief Executive Officer Mary Barra for the company’s decision to build the Blazer in Mexico rather than in the Valley.

It’s not an unreasonable question, but the answer, if one is forthcoming, will be couched in public relations verbiage.

However, a call from President Trump to Barra will get a response.

There are several reasons Trump’s intervention is demanded:

First, he promised to punish American carmakers that keep building vehicles abroad for sale in the U.S.

Second, he owes the residents of the Valley a debt of gratitude for their support in the 2016 presidential elections. The Republican candidate carried the predominantly Democratic Trumbull County and lost by a slim margin in the heavily Democratic Mahoning County.

Third, the president owes Sen. Brown and Rep. Ryan a debt of gratitude for their unstinting support of his hard-line position on trade with China, Russia and other countries that have long dumped products in the U.S. at artificially low prices, while putting up barriers against American products, including automobiles.

The support Trump is receiving from Brown and Ryan for the tariffs he has imposed on Chinese steel and aluminum stands in sharp contrast to the position taken by many Republicans in Congress who see free trade as a pillar of GOP political orthodoxy.

However, from the early days of his campaign, Trump made it clear that his America First platform would mean punishing American companies that send jobs abroad and penalizing trading partners that continue to amass huge surpluses.

The president should show his gratitude for the support he’s receiving from Sen. Brown and Rep. Ryan by going to bat for the Mahoning Valley as it fights for the survival of GM Lordstown’s assembly complex.

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