It took less than two minutes for Donald Trump to get his facts wrong in his first debate with his Democratic rival for the presidency, Hillary Clinton.
Trump was discussing his policies on trade and listing companies that he said were moving jobs overseas. He said, correctly, that Ford Motor is shifting production abroad to Mexico — within a couple of years, the icon of the American car industry will produce all of its small passenger vehicles in Mexico.
Then, however, Trump said wrongly that Ford is moving jobs to Mexico.
“Ford is leaving, you see that,” Trump said. “Their small car division — thousands of jobs, leaving Michigan, leaving Ohio.”
After an agreement with the United Auto Workers, Ford has pledged that the shift will not affect workers in the United States. Those workers will keep their jobs, producing larger vehicles instead of the small cars they are building today.
Ford, like many other automakers, is expanding production in Mexico. These companies have many reasons for doing so. The cost of labor is indeed greater in the United States, which makes producing labor-intensive small cars in Mexico more profitable. The United States also has advantages, though — inexpensive electricity, experienced technicians and access to sophisticated materials and equipment — often means building larger and more expensive cars is cheaper in this country.
One irony of the politics of the auto industry today is that for some companies, building cars in Mexico can be cheaper because Mexico has more free trade agreements with countries overseas. These free trade agreements allow manufacturers who build in Mexico to avoid tariffs when they sell cars in places such as Europe and Brazil. Trump has been broadly critical of new trade agreements, including the Trans-Pacific Partnership, the trade deal President Obama has negotiated in the Pacific.