Toyota's line into Trump: Mike Pence

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Sun Jan 15, 2017 4:42 pm

Toyota's line into Trump: Mike Pence
CEO works Indiana connection to defuse criticism

DETROIT — Broadsided by this month’s Trump tweet targeting Toyota, the Japanese carmaker’s president, Akio Toyoda, is wasting no time in appealing to the new administration.

On day one of the Detroit auto show, Toyoda ballyhooed the company’s plan to invest $10 billion in the U.S. over the next five years. The next day, he led a delegation of executives to Washington to meet Toyota’s inside man with the new administration: Vice President-elect Mike Pence.

Toyota has a business relationship with Pence rooted in Indiana, where he served as governor since 2013 and where Toyota has been making light trucks at a big assembly plant since 1999.

Insiders say the moves highlight a multipronged approach in dealing with the policy uncertainty swirling around President-elect Donald Trump. One step is communicating Toyota’s commitment and contributions to the U.S. economy, through 136,000 employees, including dealership jobs, and 10 factories. The other is using Pence as a direct line to the top of the government.

Trump triggered jitters at Toyota — and other overseas brands shipping to the U.S. — when he blasted Toyota’s plans to build a factory in Mexico to export Corolla compact cars to the U.S.

“NO WAY! Build plant in U.S. or pay big border tax,” Trump tweeted.

The Pence approach offers Toyota a known quantity in dealing with the unknown world ahead. A Toyota spokesman confirmed Toyoda’s Jan. 10 meeting with Pence but declined to give other details.

Just before Trump’s tweet, Toyoda said the company will take a wait-and-see stance about future U.S. policy and has no plans to change its investment strategy in Mexico.

Toyota broke ground on a plant in Guanajuato, Mexico, in November. That plant, announced in 2015, is to open in 2019 with 2,000 employees and annual capacity of 200,000 vehicles.

Toyoda said increasing production capacity in the U.S. is “always being considered” but is independent of the company’s plans in Mexico. He added that he was not “in a position” to arrange a personal meeting anytime soon with Trump but shared the president-elect’s goals.

“No matter who becomes the president, we try to be a good corporate citizen,” Toyoda said of his company’s roots in the U.S. “In that sense, our being a good corporate citizen will match Mr. Trump’s intention to make America strong again in the long run.” ... mike-pence
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