Trump's Michigan speech: What he got right, wrong about EVs, China and the auto industry

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When former President Donald Trump visited Waterford on Saturday night, he spoke for an estimated 80 minutes about key issues ranging from his multimillion dollar legal headaches to his concerns about the auto industry and what he portrays as a grim future for autoworkers.

Below is a list of statements in italics made by Trump to the crowd of about 2,000 and livestreamed on C-SPAN that were fact-checked by auto experts. Responses are based on expertise provided to the Detroit Free Press on Sunday by Sam Fiorani, vice president of global vehicle forecasting for AutoForecast Solutions of Chester Springs, Pennsylvania.

Electric vehicles

  • "Nobody wants to buy" electric vehicles. False. There is no dip in demand. There is a slowing of growth in demand. All car companies, including Tesla, see that increased competition is reducing EV prices. People are buying EVs but the demand is not growing as fast as the supply.

  • "They (Electric vehicles) don't go far" before needing to be charged. Half true. Most EVs on the road today travel 200 to 300 miles, with some going well over 300, before needing a charge. Many EVs now can go nearly as far as ICE (internal combustion engine) vehicles before needing to refuel.

  • "They (Electric vehicles) are very expensive." Mostly false, depending on the vehicle. The average price of an EV is about 10% more than a traditional gasoline-powered internal combustion engine vehicle. But federal incentives take down the purchase cost, plus costs over the lifetime of an EV are less.

  • "They require far fewer jobs to make. Michigan you're going to get so screwed." Mostly true. The claim of fewer jobs to build electric vehicles is believed to be true, but has not been proven yet.

  • "They ordered a hit job on Michigan manufacturing with this insane electric vehicle mandate." Mostly false. In fact, the global auto market is moving to electric vehicles and will be a majority of vehicles sold in the next 20 years or so. The problem with backing away from pressuring the auto industry today to develop EV technology is that America will lose the overall manufacturing lead. China will win. China is prepared to take over the world with electric vehicles. If North American and European companies don't focus on pushing forward, other countries will come in and eat their lunch. There will be no coming back from that. The Detroit Three could be out of business. In addition, automakers have invested billions in Michigan and other parts of the U.S. to lay the groundwork for local electric vehicle production.

  • "If we build all the charging booths that are necessary, the country would go bankrupt. It costs, like, $3 trillion." False. The $3 trillion price tag proposed by President Joe Biden, with bipartisan support, pays for overhauling the country's infrastructure, like roads and bridges, electric and water systems, and high-speed internet; as well as funding education, climate and social programs.

  • "They want to make our Army tanks into all electric..." In fact, electric vehicles have a lower heat signature, which makes them safer for soldiers. Adversaries can see a tank location because it puts out a lot of heat. Exhaust on a tank can literally melt the paint off a car. EV vehicles also are silent, which is considered a safety issue for the military.

More: Trump calls UAW's Fain a 'weapon of mass destruction' for autoworkers

The China threat, autoworker job security

  • "The big plants, the ones you really have to see, are the ones they’re building in Mexico. Far more advanced; double, triple the size of what’s happening in the United States. Big plants are all being built in Mexico." Half true. Chinese automakers are planning to build factories in Mexico. No one knows the size or scope yet as property purchases have not been made public. The Detroit Three automakers have not reported the building of new plants in Mexico.

  • "They’re building plants in Mexico right across the border, and the cars are being sold tax free into the United States. I will stop that the first day." Half true. The Detroit Three have had factories in Mexico for a while, with Ford building the fewest vehicles there — the Mustang Mach-E and Bronco Sport. A few Chinese vehicles made by the JAC Group, assembled by a manufacturer in Mexico, are sold in Mexico only. These vehicles would be taxed at 2.5% because they wouldn't qualify for Free Trade exemptions because they don't use enough U.S. domestic parts. In certain cases, imports may be sold without tariffs when they are offset by exports of the same value. Polestar, for example, can offset its Polestar 2 imports when it exports the Polestar 3 made in South Carolina, according to Automotive News Europe.

More: UAW President Shawn Fain goes on Fox, lists 5 key reasons why Trump lost union endorsement

Global competition

  • "I used to say Angela (Merkel, then Chancellor of Germany), I said 'How many Chevrolets do you have in Munich? Probably none. How many Chevrolets do you have in Germany? Maybe none. But we take their BMWs; We take their Volkswagens; their Mercedes-Benzes. We’re so stupid..." False. In fact, General Motors sold off its operations in Europe before Trump was president. Chevrolet left because of lagging sales and continued financial losses in Germany.

  • "(I) renegotiated deals with Japan. Japan took such advantage of us. So one-sided." Mostly false. Trump did renegotiate trade agreements with Japan, but they focused primarily on the agriculture industry. In fact, not all market access is about money. What made American vehicles uncompetitive in Japan is that the U.S. couldn't meet the quality and safety requirements.

  • "Your biggest threat to your unions is millions of people coming across the border. They’ll have someone else take it for one-third the price." False. The UAW already negotiates national labor contracts with the Detroit Three and currently is organizing foreign-based automakers. After the UAW contract ratification, Honda, Toyota, Hyundai and Tesla all announced worker pay raises.

  • "We want to bring manufacturing back." Mostly false. U.S. and foreign companies currently are investing billions of dollars in U.S. auto manufacturing, like battery and production plants. Since the early 1990s, when Japanese manufacturers Toyota and Honda were given a limit on how many vehicles they could import into the U.S., they've set up shop in America. In recent years, Volkswagen and Mercedes-Benz and Hyundai all have established a large U.S. manufacturing presence.

  • "You're getting nice wages for a short period of time, but you're going to be out of jobs in two years." False. The Inflation Reduction Act requires vehicles and parts to be built in North America and specifically in the U.S. for some parts. Otherwise, companies lose access to money.

Contact Phoebe Wall Howard: 313-618-1034 or phoward@freepress.com. Follow her on X at @phoebesaid

This article originally appeared on Detroit Free Press: What Trump got right, wrong on auto industry in Waterford speech