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Trump to meet with U.S. auto CEOs amid jobs push

By David Shepardson

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. President Donald Trump will have breakfast on Tuesday with the chief executives of General Motors Co <GM.N>, Ford Motor Co <F.N> and Fiat Chrysler Automobiles NV <FCHA.MI> as he pressures automakers to boost American employment.

White House spokesman Sean Spicer said Trump "looks forward to hearing their ideas about how we can work together to bring more jobs back to this industry." Trump has criticized automakers for building cars in Mexico and elsewhere and has threatened to impose 35 percent tariffs on imported vehicles.

The meeting is the latest sign of Trump's uncommon degree of intervention for a U.S. president into corporate affairs as he has repeatedly jawboned automakers and other manufacturers to "buy American and hire American."

It will be the first time the CEOs of the big three automakers meet jointly with a U.S. president since a July 2011 session with President Barack Obama to tout a deal to nearly double fuel efficiency standards to 54.5 miles per gallon by 2025. Fiat Chrysler is the Italian-American parent of the former Michigan-based Chrysler.

U.S. and foreign automakers have been touting plans to boost American jobs and investments in the face of Trump's comments. The Republican president made attacks on Ford's Mexico investments a cornerstone of his campaign.

Automakers have praised Trump's policies, but emphasized that the recent employment moves were the result of business, not political decisions, that had mostly been in the works for a long period.

Early this month, Ford scrapped plans to build a $1.6 billion plant in Mexico and said it would invest $700 million in a factory in Michigan. Ford will still move production of Focus small cars to Mexico but will cut total production of the cars by consolidating their assembly in an existing Mexican plant.

Ford CEO Mark Fields, who was among business leaders meeting with Trump on Monday, said earlier this month that Ford would have made the same investment decision even if Trump had not been elected.

Last week, GM confirmed it would invest an additional $1 billion in its U.S. factories this year and would move some parts production from Mexico to the United States that was previously handled by a supplier. The investments are in addition to $2.9 billion the automaker announced last year, GM said.

GM said the $1 billion investment would create or retain 1,500 jobs. GM CEO Mary Barra joined a Trump economic issue advisory panel last month.

Earlier this month, Fiat Chrysler said it would invest $1 billion to modernize two plants in the U.S. Midwest and create 2,000 jobs, and possibly move production of a Ram heavy-duty pickup truck to Michigan from Mexico.

FUEL EFFICIENCY

The auto executives are likely to raise concerns about higher fuel efficiency standards and the potential impact on border adjustment taxes.

Fiat Chrysler faces investigations by the EPA and Justice Department after it was accused this month by the EPA of illegally using hidden software to allow excess diesel emissions to go undetected in about 104,000 U.S. cars and trucks, the result of a probe that stemmed from regulators' investigation of rival Volkswagen AG <VOWG_p.DE>.

The company vowed to work with the Trump "administration to present its case and resolve this matter fairly and equitably."

(Reporting by David Shepardson; Editing by Jonathan Oatis and Peter Cooney)

 

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