By Laurence Iliff, Crain News Service
DETROIT – Global auto executives don't want to talk much about President-elect Donald Trump and his trade plans.
But with billions of dollars invested in Mexican vehicle manufacturing plants and supply chains, they can't afford not to think about what steep tariffs and scrapped treaties might mean for their businesses.
What the executives do say in cautious public comments reflects their uncertainty over a novice politician whose campaign promises followed no particular economic philosophy. One week after the surprise outcome of the U.S. election, they were left wondering which Donald Trump will show up on Jan. 20 for his inauguration: the pro-growth businessman or the protectionist populist.
The stakes are high and growing. Mexico exported a record 2.8 million cars and light trucks last year, with nearly three-quarters landing in the U.S. About 12 percent of new vehicles bought in the U.S. last year were made in Mexico.
One executive who has been outspoken of late is Ford Motor Co. CEO Mark Fields, whose company was singled out by Mr. Trump for criticism during the recent presidential campaign after it confirmed this year that the auto maker was building a small-car plant in the central Mexico state of San Luis Potosi.
On the sidelines of the recent Los Angeles Auto Show in November, Mr. Fields said Mr. Trump's proposed tariffs on Mexico-made cars would be counterproductive for the U.S. economy as a whole.