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Trump threatens punishment for GM after plant closures, layoff news – Detroit Free Press

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WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump on Tuesday threatened to end consumer subsidies for electric cars sold by General Motors in the wake of the company’s announcement of layoffs and plant closures in Michigan, Ohio and Maryland. 

In two tweets Tuesday afternoon, Trump said he was “very disappointed” in GM and its chief executive officer, Mary Barra, for the closings, which include assembly plants in Detroit-Hamtramck and Lordstown, Ohio. 

But it was unclear what steps Trump could take to punish GM — and whether he could unilaterally reduce subsidies, which are largely limited to those for electric cars — though the federal government has hundreds of millions of dollars in contracts and other arrangements with the company he could potentially affect.

“Nothing being closed in Mexico & China,” Trump continued. “The U.S. saved General Motors, and this is the THANKS we get! We are now looking at cutting all @GM subsidies, including for electric cars.”

Trump also said said that GM made what he called “a big … bet” in China some years ago but that he doesn’t “think that bet is going to pay off. I am here to protect America’s Workers!”

On Monday, GM announced cuts involving some 14,000 employees in North America, including about 8,000 white-collar layoffs. After talking to Barra, Trump said Monday afternoon that he was “not happy” about the announced closures and that pressure would be brought to bear on the company. 

More: General Motors to close Detroit, Ohio, Canada plants

More: Democrats say GM gets tax cuts while workers get shafted

In his remarks Monday and Tuesday, Trump also referenced the federal government’s $51 billion investment in the company, made in 2008 and 2009 as moves were made to keep it and Chrysler from going under. The federal Treasury recouped most of that investment, though about $11 billion of the investment in GM was never repaid. The government recouped much of the money by selling stock it held when the company emerged from bankruptcy.

GM is also a large federal contractor — with contracts in fiscal 2015 worth about $266 million — and also receives tens of millions a year in federal grants, with about $360 million in awards in recent years, including those for research done for the Defense Department and to improve battery technology and other advances.

Later Tuesday afternoon, GM put out a statement saying, “We appreciate the actions this administration has taken on behalf of industry to improve the overall competitiveness of U.S. manufacturing” and said it remains “committed to maintaining a strong manufacturing presence in the U.S.”

It did not directly address the president’s remarks, however. Barra said Monday the moves were being made to reposition the company at a time of downturn in auto sales overall.

Analysts said they were worried about Trump making such an active threat against the company.

“I am very troubled by the president of the United States tweeting such things. Can you imagine the lawsuits Trump would have filed if the government had tried to interfere in his businesses over that last 50 years like he is threatening (here)?” said Jon Gabrielsen, a market economist who advises automakers and auto suppliers.

Trump campaigned heavily in Michigan and across the Midwest in 2016 promising to protect and increase manufacturing jobs, especially those in the auto sector. But on Monday, he took heat — especially from Democrats — who said those promises rang hollow in the wake of GM’s announcement. 

As an incentive to purchase electric cars, the Internal Revenue Service provides an upfront credit of up to $7,500 for a new vehicle, available to each automaker until it sells 200,000 qualified vehicles, after which time the credit begins to phase-out. GM was expected to cross that 200,000 threshold sometime in the last three months of this year.

GM has asked for an extension, however. It was unclear what steps would have to be taken if the Trump administration moved to limit GM’s subsidies without affecting those due other automakers. 

Contact Todd Spangler at 703-854-8947 or at tspangler@freepress.com. Follow him on Twitter at @tsspangler. Free Press staff writer Jamie Lareau contributed to this story.

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