Despite Trump tweet, Ford says it won’t make hatchback in US

Citing Trump’s new tariffs, Ford on Aug. 31 said it was dropping plans to ship the Focus Active from China to America. (Reuters)
Updated 10 September 2018

Despite Trump tweet, Ford says it won’t make hatchback in US

  • Citing Trump’s new tariffs, Ford on Aug. 31 said it was dropping plans to ship the Focus Active from China to America
  • Trump took to Twitter Sunday to declare victory and write: “This is just the beginning. This car can now be BUILT IN THE USA. and Ford will pay no tariffs!”

WASHINGTON: Ford won’t be moving production of a hatchback wagon to the United States from China — despite President Donald Trump’s claim Sunday that his taxes on Chinese imports mean the Focus Active can be built in America.
Citing Trump’s new tariffs, Ford on Aug. 31 said it was dropping plans to ship the Focus Active from China to America.
Trump took to Twitter Sunday to declare victory and write: “This is just the beginning. This car can now be BUILT IN THE USA. and Ford will pay no tariffs!”
But in a statement Sunday, Ford said “it would not be profitable to build the Focus Active in the US” given forecast yearly sales below 50,000.
For now, that means Ford simply won’t sell the vehicle in the United States. Kristin Dziczek of the Center for Automotive Research said that Ford can make Focuses “in many other plants around the world, so if they decided to continue to sell a Focus variant in the US market, there are several options other than building it in the United States.”
In April, Ford announced plans to stop making cars in the United States — except for the iconic Mustang — and to focus on more profitable SUVs. It stopped making Focus sedans at a Wayne, Michigan, plant in May. The plan, said industry analyst Ed Kim of AutoPacific, was to pare down the Focus lineup to Active wagons and import them from China.
“Without the tariffs, the business case was pretty solid for that model in the US market,” Kim said.
Demand for small cars in the US has been waning for years with relatively low gasoline prices and a shift from cars to SUVs and trucks.
If Ford sold fewer than 50,000 Focus Active wagons per year, it would run a US factory on only one shift per day, which isn’t cost-effective, Dziczek said. Automakers like to run plants on at least two shifts, and preferably three per day to cover the cost of building and equipping the factory, and to turn a profit.
Ford also wouldn’t want to spend millions on equipment to build the Focus Active here because at low sales volumes it wouldn’t get a good return on its investment, Dziczek said.
If sales were high enough to justify production at a US plant, the price of a compact vehicle isn’t high enough to cover the difference in wages here, she said.
“The margins are very slim,” Dziczek said. “Even if you had demand and volume, it’s still very difficult to build a small car in the US profitably, which is why you find very few of them here.”
In China, labor costs are about $8 per hour including benefits, but it’s more than $52 per hour in the US, according to Dziczek.
Ford, BMW, Mercedes and others export about 250,000 vehicles to China from the US each year, Dziczek said. Most of them are luxury cars and SUVs with higher profit margins that can cover higher US wages, she said.
For the Focus Active, the tariffs on Chinese vehicles changed everything. The United States on July 6 began imposing a 25 percent tax on $34 billion in Chinese imports, including motor vehicles. Last month, it added tariffs to another $16 billion in Chinese goods and is readying taxes on another $200 billion worth. China is retaliating with its own tariffs on US products.
The world’s two biggest economies are clashing over US allegations that China deploys predatory tactics — including outright cybertheft — to acquire technology from US companies and challenge American technological dominance.


Frank Kane’s Davos diary: Swiss efficiency lapses, but so far Davos lives up to the cuckoo-clock image

Updated 22 January 2020

Frank Kane’s Davos diary: Swiss efficiency lapses, but so far Davos lives up to the cuckoo-clock image

Davos comes and Davos goes, but over the last five decades, the one thing you can rely on is Swiss efficiency, right? The trains run on time, the cuckoo clocks chime on the hour, and the snow is swept from the pathways within minutes of the first fake falling. That is the common (even cliched) view of the Alpine nation and its showpiece event, the World Economic Forum (WEF) annual meeting in Davos.

But — and whisper it very gently beneath your breath — maybe the legendary standards of Swiss efficiency are slipping as the WEF celebrates its 50th birthday. Evidence of a lapse from the highest levels of attainment came at Zurich Airport, when the luggage belt seized up inexplicably, and a full 10 minutes elapsedbefore a maintenance man came to attend to it. Tut tut.

Further signs of falling standards were on display at the railway station. The booking desks were besieged, as usual, by WEF delegates keen to complete the final leg of their journey up the Magic Mountain — a two-hour rail journey involving two stops at increasingly higher altitudes.

But only two of the 10 grills were manned, and the line grew longer and more grumpy with each passing minute. The mood was not helped when some trains were canceled and an extra hour was added to the journey. There was much muttering and dark looks shot when the train finally pulled into Klosters.

But thankfully, once you got to the heart of WEF-land, normal service was resumed. There had been a reasonable fall of snow that morning, which gave the place its usual fairytale appearance, but no traffic snarl ups as in previous years, when massive snowfall had caused the place to grind to a halt.

The shuttle buses that are the arterial life-channels of Davos — for those whose budgets do not extend to the black Mercedes limo — were running with their usual Swiss punctuality: Every 10 minutes or so, or even more frequently during peak rush hours.

These, in my experience over the past few years, are becoming frequently extended. Having battled through the registration process and attended one event at the nearby Seehof hotel, I imagined it would be easy to catch a ride on a virtually empty shuttle back to Klosters at around 9.30 p.m. But even at that hour, there was a long queue of unhappy souls waiting to make the same 20-minute trip to the other side of the mountain and their warm, welcoming hotel rooms.

It was the same thing on the opening morning of the annual meeting. I left my hotel — the homely and comfortable Cresta in Klosters — at 7 a.m. in the dark, and at minus 5 degrees Celsius. Again, there was a crowd of people standing huddled at the shuttle stop, shivering and stamping their feet.

The WEF shuttle service was up to the job, however, and I got into the Congress Hall with little trouble. The airport-style screening process — maybe a little more thorough than usual in view of the impending arrival of US President Donald Trump — passed smoothly. One request though: Please WEF, install some hot-air machines in the security hall. The body shock when you remove outer clothing to pass through the metal detectors was wicked.

Then down to business, which for a journalist at Davos means finding somewhere in the congress complex where you can rest a laptop while also providing a good people-watching vantage point. Over the years, I have learned that the Central Lounge — strategically located between the main plenary meeting halls and the (private) members lounge and bilateral rooms — is the perfect spot. Now, who will come my way in Davos 2020?