DETROIT—General Motors is walking a fine line when it comes to President Trump and his attacks on the auto maker's plans to idle or shut as many as four domestic plants.
Days after Trump blasted the company on Twitter and at a rally in Ohio last week, GM CEO Mary Barra announced plans to invest $1.8 billion in its U.S. factories and add 700 domestic jobs over the next two to three years. The investment includes an announced $300 million for a new full-electric Chevrolet vehicle to be produced at Orion Assembly in suburban Detroit.
But GM was quick to put some distance between Trump's remarks and the investments, saying the plans leading to the March 22, announcement were made weeks in advance. Asked about those remarks, Barra said what mattered was that she and the president agreed on the merits of a strong U.S. manufacturing base.
"We want to create jobs—good-paying jobs—and we're excited to be doing that here today, and we're going to stay on that focus," she said. "I think that's where there's a common message."
Barra also voiced support for the pending U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement, which Trump has championed as a replacement for the North American Free Trade Agreement.
She touted the trade deal as recognizing "the complexity of the auto industry and the supply chain" and cited its stricter rules of origin as one reason why the company decided to build the forthcoming electric vehicle at Orion Assembly. The rules require that 75 percent of a vehicle's content be classified as North American to cross borders duty- free, up from NAFTA's 62.5 percent.
"We support USMCA," she said. "We think there was a lot of work that was done in modernizing it."
Barra said GM originally intended to build the vehicle outside the U.S., but wouldn't say where.
The new Chevrolet EV will be based on the Bolt EV, which Orion Assembly builds alongside the Chevy Sonic subcompact.
The plan to build it as a Chevy signals that GM still sees some mass-market appeal for EVs even after it discontinued its Chevy Volt plug-in hybrid and positioned its Cadillac luxury brand to lead its electrification efforts.
The coming vehicle is expected to be the first for the U.S. under GM's plan to release at least 20 new battery or fuel cell powered vehicles globally by 2023.
GM provided no other information about the vehicle or its launch timing.
The investment was announced ahead of what are expected to be contentious contract negotiations with the UAW. UAW Vice President Terry Dittes, who appeared at the announcement and declined to join GM executives for photos after the event, said he would not spoil a "great day" for the union members at Orion Assembly, but he showed little love for GM and its plans to idle other U.S. plants.
"There is hardship amongst four of our locations, and we've made it clear that we disagree with that," Dittes said.
Making major investment announcements ahead of contract talks is not uncommon. Four years ago, the company announced plans to invest $5.4 billion in U.S. plants through 2018.