President Donald Trump has often been sharply critical of an auto industry that he believes is moving too many jobs overseas and is at odds with his vision of American manufacturing prowess. He used his campaign bully pulpit to scuttle Ford’s plans to move small-car production to Mexico.
He threatened General Motors and Toyota on social media with a “big border tax” and for months has been vowing to rip up several free-trade agreements — moves that could wreak havoc on the global supply chains upon which every major automaker relies.
While blasting the auto industry with heat-seeking rhetoric and a barrage of tweets may garner attention, Trump might be better off embracing it as a strong partner that can help him deliver the promises he campaigned on. He has a natural political ally in the thousands of car dealers who are the public face of the auto industry, a huge engine for job creation and an influential voice in Washington.
America’s car dealerships, after all, are the paragon of successful Main Street businesses on which Trump heaped praise during his campaign. They are powerful institutions in the Rust Belt and in the heartland, where his message of hope to working-class voters left behind by globalization and technological change most resonated. And they are big employers there, too — supporting tens of thousands of Americans who work as salespeople, mechanics and other critical roles and millions more through business relationships with parts suppliers and other outside vendors.
As the president works to revitalize communities around the country, the automotive retail industry is poised to play a major role in keeping American factories open and creating good-paying jobs. Indeed, dealerships are exemplars of the small businesses that form the backbone of the American economy.
America’s auto retailers share the no-nonsense mindset that was a hallmark of Trump’s candidacy. On the campaign trail, he touted his experience as a tough but pragmatic businessman as a key reason he would get things done in our nation’s capital. America’s dealers can certainly relate. Like the president, they are steely negotiators with a bias toward action and flexibility.
It’s what they must do every day to make sure the four-wheeled inventory keeps moving off their lots.
In fact, as the president vows to eliminate our government’s bureaucratic red tape and reshape Washington, he would be wise to look at how our nation’s car dealers have successfully evolved with the times. While new technologies, shifting consumer preferences and a more diverse customer base have significantly transformed car buying, dealers have embraced meaningful change by building on a system that has largely worked, not tearing it down.