Ford cancels $1.6 billion Mexican plant after Trump criticism

By By Bernie Woodall and David Shepardson Features Reuters

FLAT ROCK, Mich./WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Ford Motor Co said Tuesday it will cancel a planned $1.6 billion factory in Mexico and will invest $700 million at a Michigan factory, after it had come under harsh criticism from President-elect Donald Trump for its Mexican investment plans.

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The second largest U.S. automaker said it would build new electric, hybrid and autonomous vehicles at the Flat Rock, Michigan plant.

Ford Chief Executive Mark Fields said the decision to cancel the new plant in Mexico was in part related to the need to "fully utilize capacity at existing facilities" amid declining sales of small and medium sized cars such as the Focus and Fusion.

Fields also endorsed "pro growth" tax and regulatory policies advocated by Trump and the Republican led Congress.

Trump repeatedly said during the election campaign that if elected he would not allow Ford to open the new plant in Mexico, which he called an "absolute disgrace" and would slap hefty tariffs taxes on imported Ford vehicles.

Ford executive chairman Bill Ford Jr. told reporters that he spoke with Trump to notify him of the decision. A Ford source said the decision was influenced by Trump's policy goals such as lowering taxes and regulations but there were no negotiations between Ford and the Republican over the decision to cancel the Mexico plant or invest in Michigan.

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Also on Tuesday, Trump threatened to impose a "big border tax" on General Motors Co for making some of its Chevrolet Cruze cars in Mexico. The New York businessman takes office on Jan. 20.

Fields said Ford will build a battery electric SUV with a 300-mile driving range at the Michigan plant by 2020, and will launch production there by 2021 of a fully autonomous vehicle without a steering wheel or a brake pedal for use in ride services fleets. Ford also plans new hybrid versions of its F-150 pickup truck, Mustang and police vehicles by 2020.

Ford will add 700 jobs at the Flat Rock plant, Fields said, to cheers from union workers gathered at the factory for the announcement.

Ford in April announced it would invest $1.6 billion in the new plant in San Luis Potosi, Mexico to build small cars. The company said it will shift production from Michigan of its Focus to an existing plant in Hermosillo, Mexico. Trump had urged Ford to cancel the planned Mexican plant.

When Trump announced his campaign in June, 2015, he said Ford would cancel its planned Mexico investments. "They���ll say,���Mr. President we���ve decided to move the plant back to the United States ��� we���re not going to build it in Mexico.��� That���s it. They have no choice," Trump said.

Trump tweeted a link on Tuesday to a story about the decision.

Ford said it will add two new unnamed products at its Michigan Assembly Plant in Wayne, Michigan, where the Focus is manufactured today.

(Reporting by David Shepardson; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama and Alistair Bell)