President Trump criticized Toyota Motor Corp. specifically and in general all foreign automakers as threats to national security while announcing a delay in imposing tariffs on imported cars and trucks Friday.

Trump has previously criticized other automakers such as Ford and General Motors in the past, but this was his first attack on a specific foreign automaker.

“Toyota Motor will build a new plant in Baja, Mexico, to build Corolla cars for U.S. NO WAY! Build plant in U.S. or pay big border tax,” Trump tweeted late last week.

The two statements sparked a surprisingly sharp rebuke from Toyota, as well as political and industrial leaders in Japan.

“(Last week’s) proclamation sends a message to Toyota that our investments are not welcomed, and the contributions from each of our employees across America are not valued,” Toyota’s statement reads.

Toyota states it has 10 manufacturing plants, 1,500-strong dealer network, extensive supply chain and other operations, employ 475,000 in the U.S. and have invested over $60 billion, including over $1 billion in philanthropic and community-outreach efforts.

Since 2017, Toyota has invested $1.3 billion in Georgetown’s Toyota Motor Manufacturing Kentucky (TMMK) plant, and recently announced two new vehicle models to be built here. Overall, Toyota states it has invested over $60 billion in the United States.

TMMK employs between 7,500 and 8,000.

On Friday, Trump said a study by the U.S. Commerce Department had found the military needed research and development advancements from the American-based automobile industry and increased popularity of automobiles from foreign-based automakers was a threat to national security.

Toyota disputed that.

“We have been a leader in (research and development) through open-sourcing patents in critical technologies such as fuel cells, hybrid electrification and continue to be transparent and collaborative in our innovations,” Toyota states. “Our goal is to develop technologies that help society and contribute to sustaining the economy and jobs in the U.S. We continue to innovate in areas of (artificial intelligence). autonomous and robotics technologies that will further contribute and improve our American society.”

The Japanese government jumped to Toyota’s defense calling the automaker, “an important corporate citizen.”

This is not the first time Trump has criticized an industry for building a plant outside the United States. He has recently been critical of Ford, which announced last week it was scrapping a $1.6 billion plant in Mexico.

But the president’s threat to specifically tax an individual brand was unusual. Toyota has a small presence in Mexico, producing Tacoma trucks in Baja. Other automakers have a larger presence, so Trump’s threat, though targeted at Toyota, raised concerns with others as well.

Toyota President Akio Toyoda said in Japan the automaker had no plans to withdraw or curb production in Mexico.

TMMK officials declined to comment on either the statements by Trump or Toyota, so that “we have one consistent message.”

Mike Scogin can be reached at mscogin@news-graphic.com.

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