Automaker CEOs trek to the White House

Trump tells auto execs to build cars in US: 'That's what we like'

Negotiators are working to rewrite the 24-year-old trade pact in which the auto industry features prominently, but the US, Canada and Mexico have not yet bridged their differences on criteria for duty-free vehicle imports.

The president says they'll discuss the "manufacturing of millions of more cars within the United States, for MI, for OH, for Pennsylvania" and states like SC and North Carolina.

US President Donald Trump on Friday convened the world's most important auto executives at the White House to press for increased domestic production, while again heaping criticism on the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA).

The chief executives of General Motors Co, Ford Motor Co, Fiat Chrysler, along with senior US executives from Toyota Motor Corp, Volkswagen AG, Hyundai Motor Co, Nissan Motor Co, Honda Motor Co, BMW AG and Daimler AG met with Trump, as did the chief executives of two auto trade groups.

Asked if the deal might adversely affect the industry, Trump said, "NAFTA has been a awful deal, we're renegotiating it now, we'll see what happens".

Following the meeting, a pair of top trade groups from the auto industry said that Trump has expressed his openness to talking with California.

"I've never been a Nafta fan", Trump said. They have warned that changing NAFTA too much could prompt some companies to move production out of the United States.

"We are not asking the administration for a rollback", Ford Chairman Bill Ford said Thursday during the automaker's annual meeting. "We want California at the table and we want one national standard".

U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer, Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao, White House economic adviser Larry Kudlow, Environmental Protection Agency chief Scott Pruitt and White House aide Chris Liddell are among the administration officials who attended the meeting.

As a candidate, he repeatedly attacked Ford over its decision to build an automobile plant in Mexico. The president-elect responded with tweets of praise.

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Trump aimed more attacks at GM and Toyota over manufacturing plans for Mexico, and both responded by announcing billions of dollars in already planned investments in American plants.

"Their hand is a bit stronger than perhaps the administration realizes", Adam Jonas, an auto analyst at Morgan Stanley, said Friday on Bloomberg Television. But I'm representing the United States.

Environmentalists, meanwhile, are pushing Trump and the automakers to agree to keep the Obama standards.

Major automakers reiterated this week they do not support freezing fuel efficiency requirements but said they want new flexibility and rule changes to address lower gasoline prices and the shift in US consumer preferences to bigger, less fuel-efficient vehicles.

Trade-related tirades also have been a routine issue for the likes of Volkswagen AG, Daimler AG and BMW AG, with Trump blasting Europe's auto trade imbalance with the USA and threatening to tax German vehicle imports.

Fiat Chrysler chief executive Sergio Marchionne told Reuters before the meeting his company is "fully supportive" of Trump's efforts to revise the rules and hoped for "an agreed way forward".

California and 16 other states covering about 40 percent of the US population filed suit last week to block the Trump administration's efforts to weaken the fuel efficiency requirements. The draft proposal argues that California is pre-empted by the 1975 Energy Policy and Conservation Act from setting fuel economy standards or a zero-emission vehicle mandate.

The Corporate Average Fuel Economy or CAFE standards would require carmakers to reach an average of 54.5 miles per gallon (23 kilometers per liter) across all models they produce by 2025, in an effort to significantly reduce oil consumption and the greenhouse gases linked to climate change.

Now, blowback from environmental groups and the prospect of a costly legal battle with California have put carmakers in the position of trying to find a middle ground while not coming off as unsupportive of Trump.

"We're hopeful that the slope continues to rise", Auto Alliance President Mitch Bainwol, who will be in Friday's meeting, told lawmakers earlier this week.

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