As an opening bid from a bloke meeting you at an American airport to drive you into town, it was not lacking the element of surprise. ‘How’s Brexit?’ enquired the grinning stranger as he crossed my name off his manifest, to which I’m afraid the only riposte my mildly jet-lagged brain could conjure in that instant was ‘How’s Trump?’ The smile vanished pretty much immediately as his hitherto cheerful but now world-weary voice muttered, ‘So you think you’ve got problems.’
Whether I do or not is not the issue here. Trump is the issue. In theory, there should be few places on earth likely to benefit more from the Mighty Bouff’s promised protectionist approach than right here in Motor City. Since he won the election, Ford has scrapped plans to build a $1.6 billion plant in Mexico, Fiat Chrysler Automobiles has announced a $1 billion US investment programme that includes moving production of the Ram pick-up back north of the border, and both General Motors and Toyota have been fiercely criticised by Trump for making cars in Mexico and threatened with import tariffs of up to 35 percent if they continue so to do. Their response remains to be seen.
The Mexican car industry has been enjoying a boom now fully 20 years in the making and, according to Bloomberg, has a further $22 billion in investment promised by major manufacturers by the end of the decade. How many will stick to those agreements now remains to be seen, given that the President-elect has already promised to rip up NAFTA, the North American Free Trade Agreement that brought tariff-free trading between the US, Canada and Mexico.