Trump Tries to Lure Michigan Voters With Vision of Auto Revival

President Donald Trump made inflated claims at a campaign rally Thursday that he had revived the auto industry in the U.S. and Michigan, at one point suggesting he had forced Japanese carmakers to build factories in the state. They are not.

“We brought you a lot of car plants, Michigan,” Trump said at an airport rally attended by thousands of people in Freeland. “It’s been a long time since you had all these plants being built.”

One newFiat Chrysler Automobiles plant is under construction in Detroit, and two others are planned in the state, one byNavya SAS, a French shuttle bus maker, and another byWaymo, anAlphabet Inc. subsidiary working on autonomous cars.

Auto industry jobs declined under Trump because of the Covid-19 pandemic from 956,000 in January 2017, when Trump took office, to about 905,000 people in the sector as of August. Before virus-related shutdowns cut vehicle sales, employment had risen to 994,000, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Michigan is one of the most important battlegrounds for the November election, and the president seeks to keep the state from tilting to his opponent, former Vice President Joe Biden, by emphasizing his efforts on behalf of the auto industry. But in addition to exaggerated claims about his own performance, Trump’s criticism of the the Obama administration’s record on auto industry employment was at best misleading.

Trump trails Biden by about 4 points on average in polls of Michigan voters, according to RealClearPolitics.

“The United States lost 500 auto and auto parts factories under the Obama and Biden disaster,” Trump said, reading from a teleprompter. “Before the virus, my administration added over 200 auto and auto parts plants.”

“It says 200, can you believe that?” he added.

It wasn’t clear where those numbers came from, but automobile industry employment increased significantly under President Barack Obama and his vice president, Biden, following the 2008 financial crisis and Obama’s bailout of the industry.

There were 691,000 auto industry jobs in the U.S. when Obama was inaugurated in January 2009 and 953,000 in December 2016, his last full month in office, according to BLS data.

Trump claimed that he had strong-armed Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe into building new auto plants in Michigan.

“The prime minister of Japan, Abe — I say, ‘Shinzo, Shinzo, you have to do me a favor. You’ve got to send car plants over here, you know you sending all those cars. We stupidly don’t charge you tariffs for those cars that pour into our country.’ I said, ‘Shinzo you’ve got to give us plants.”’

Abe objected, Trump said, saying “that is up to the free enterprise system of Japan.”

Trump said he insisted.

“I say, ‘Shinzo, you’re a powerful man, you can do it.’ ‘Oh, I can’t do it,”’ Trump said. “The next day they announce five car companies are coming to Michigan. Right?”

There are no new Japanese auto plants known to be planned for the state.

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