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Ever since presidential candidate Donald Trump began slamming big U.S.- and foreign-owned automakers for moving production and jobs from America to Mexico due to the incentives created by the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), his critics have portrayed these attacks as a quintessential example of his ignorance about the automotive industry. How interesting, then, to report that brand new industry figures go far toward explaining why the new president’s concerns have been justified all along.

Mr. Trump, they insisted, either didn’t know or didn’t want to know that this offshoring – typified by this Ford announcement last September – stemmed not mainly from NAFTA’s terms but from the simple economics of different segments of the auto market. Even better, American domestic auto production was sure to benefit and indeed was already benefiting.

Why? Because nearly all of the auto capacity and employment moving to Mexico had to do with passenger cars, whose relatively small size and sluggish sales (due to low-ish oil prices) reduced their margins and made them uneconomical to manufacture in the United States with its high labor costs. So the automakers had wisely decided that their future production should be in much lower cost Mexico. Yet those moves would leave plenty of work for the companies’ remaining U.S. factories and employees, which would focus ever more tightly on more appealing and therefore higher margin sport-utility vehicles (SUVs) and light trucks.

To be sure, such claims had already been powerfully undercut by data showing that within North America, Mexico’s overall share of vehicle production had long been rising at the expense of the United States’. And the period of time examined includes SUV/light trucks boom years. But new statistics indicate that the SUV claims themselves are increasingly bogus as well.

Specifically, The Wall Street Journal has just presented data from the authoritative WardsAuto.com revealing not only that Mexico’s share of the NAFTA zone’s total light vehicle output (passenger cars, SUVs, and light trucks combined) just topped 20 percent for the first time. According to the Journal account, this milestone was reached largely because “the amount of popular pickups and SUVs made south of the border sharply increased.”

In addition, the Journal article indicates that these trends will only continue. For although Fiat Chrysler and Volkswagen in particular “are boosting jobs and investments at American plants amid a focus on building more trucks…those plans are unlikely to lighten the companies’ dependence on Mexican factories for U.S. sales.”

None of this should be the slightest bit surprising. Claims that Mexico was mainly being used by automakers to manufacture passenger cars of course are consistent with the notion spread for years by globalization cheerleaders that production and jobs offshored to developing countries were mainly the low end of various industries, and would permit higher paid and more productive workers in the United States to concentrate on where their efforts more properly belonged – the much more higher value and promising “good stuff.”

But this contention never made any sense. If workers in Mexico – or China or India or Brazil – could be trained to produce small cars etc efficiently, why on earth would larger vehicles remain beyond their reach – at least for very long?

So President Trump’s plans to revamp NAFTA to eliminate its offshoring bias make perfect sense from the standpoint of the domestic U.S. economy. Further, proposals being considered to ensure that all products sold in North America without tariffs be overwhelmingly North American made make just as much sense for all three signatories – since they would boost production and employment throughout the free trade zone. And these measures would even be good ultimately for the vehicle-makers themselves – unless they think that using Americans as customers in their business models but not nearly so much as workers will make any sense for much longer.

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