DETROIT — Shortly after President Donald Trump was elected in 2016, he made a proposition to the CEOs of the three largest U.S.-based automakers at a White House meeting: I’ll cut taxes and regulations, and you increase jobs and investment.

He made good on the tax and regulatory cuts, handing corporate America hundreds of billions of dollars in tax breaks and repealing Obama-era fuel-economy rules, though that rollback has fractured the industry. For all of the policy moves he made, there’s little evidence so far that the trajectory of the industry and its job growth changed markedly — even before the pandemic.

On the campaign trail, Trump tells voters he “saved” the auto industry by ripping up old trade deals and renegotiating new ones.

“You better vote for me. I got you so many damn car plants,” he told supporters last month at a rally in Midland, Mich.

Democratic presidential contender Joe Biden claimed the administration’s policies have hurt U.S. manufacturers in a Oct. 12 speech to auto workers in Toledo, Ohio.

“We’re in a manufacturing recession because of Donald Trump.”

The biggest impact of Trump’s tenure has also been the most unexpected: an onslaught of tariffs, real and threatened, that sent ripples throughout the automotive-supply chain and are likely to reverberate for years to come — no matter who is in the White House.


The administration’s bluster led to a new trade pact with Canada and Mexico that replaced the quarter-century old NAFTA accord and has begun to shape investment decisions across the region. And while a trade war with China hasn’t yielded tangible results, a more bellicose stance toward the ascendant Asian superpower is likely to remain a key pillar of U.S. foreign policy.

Limited influence

It’s too early to measure the long-term impact of the president’s policies, but
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