BMW stands up to Trump with Mexico commitment

Will the President-elect respond to the comments the German carmaker's sales and marketing director made to the BBC?

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The Independent Online

“Build them in the USA or face big border tax,” President-elect Donald Trump told carmakers on, what else, Twitter. 

Ford and Fiat Chrysler both seemed to take the hint, with announcements of big investments. BMW’s response was somewhat different. 

The company told the BBC it is “absolutely” committed to a new plant in Mexico.

Does this amount to the German multinational saying “sure buddy, how much d’you want us to pay?” to Mr Trump and his team?

Perhaps. The truth is that there is more spin in the story of Mr Trump, carmakers, and their investment decisions, than there is in the record the late, great Pete Burns sang about in his biggest hit. 

Ford’s decision to shelve a $1.6bn (£1.3bn) investment in Mexico, while investing an extra $700m in Detroit, has been seen as concrete evidence that Mr Trump’s economic nationalism is succeeding before he has even got into office. 

Ford, however, said its decision to shift its focus from petrol cars in Mexico to electric vehicles in Detroit was made for its own business reasons. And the Ford Focus will still be made in Mexico. 

So do you believe Ford? Or do you believe the media commentators crediting Trump with the decision? Or is the reality something in between. 

Electric is the auto industry’s future, so Ford has good reason to prioritise it. On the other hand, it’s also true that even if Mr Trump’s bellicose statements didn’t play any role in Ford’s announcement this time around, they will do in future. 

All businesses of all descriptions take the domestic political environment into consideration when considering investment decisions (which is something Brexiteers need to learn). Does this mean those based in the USA are more likely to stay home in future? Quite possibly. 

Does this mean Fiat Chrysler announced a $1bn plan to produce three Jeep models in the American mid-west on Sunday as a direct response to Mr Trump? Quite probably not. The plan was, in all likelihood, on the boardroom table before his election victory. The company’s timing of the announcement was very sharp, however. Look, see, we’re the good guys. 

That timing allows Mr Trump to claim a huge win for his “America First” stance. But it will also, crucially, help both companies' lobbyists, with getting heard by the new administration.

BMW, by contrast, has made a rod for its own back. Mr Trump is an avid consumer of media. The BBC’s headline “BMW ‘absolutely committed’ to a new Mexican plant” will certainly be seen across the Atlantic. 

Given what his quote has given rise to, sales and marketing director Ian Robertson is probably feeling less than comfortable at this moment.

He might have been better to have tired to avoid answering the question by saying something like “our investment plans depend on the business outlook but we’re committed to investing heavily in both the US and Mexico”. Better still not to say anything at all in such a febrile environment.

I’d imagine he's having some difficult conversations with his bosses right now.