By Tim Higgins
LOS ANGELES -- Ford Motor Co. Chief Executive Mark Fields issued a warning about President-elect Donald Trump's proposed trade policies, saying high tariffs on automobiles and other products coming into the U.S. would be a blow to the auto industry and broader U.S. economy.
Mr. Fields, speaking with reporters on the sidelines of the Los Angeles Auto Show on Tuesday, said Ford has talked to Mr. Trump's transition team and believes the company can work with the new administration. During a separate interview, he said, "We all share the same objective; we want a vibrant and healthy U.S. economy."
The two sides, however, appear to be at odds on how to achieve that goal.
Ford's plan to move a substantial portion of its passenger-car production to Mexico from a factory in Michigan was heavily criticized by Mr. Trump on the campaign trail. Like many of its rivals, Ford is building more-profitable light trucks in the U.S. while investing in new capacity in Mexico to produce lower-margin small cars.
Ford is also looking to better use the rest of its global footprint. On Monday, the company unveiled a small sport utility called the EcoSport. It fills a hole in the company's U.S. market, but the company will import the vehicle from India.
While Ford has argued that no jobs will be lost because of the Mexico move and that lower costs there would boost profitability, Mr. Trump has proposed a 35% tariff as penalty for such a move.
Mr. Fields said the tariff "would be harmful, I think, to the entire industry and the economy and therefore we want to engage in a very productive set of discussions." He noted the North American Free Trade Agreement has increased the interwoven connections shared by auto industries in the U.S., Canada and Mexico.
Mr. Trump has said he would renegotiate Nafta, which came into force in the 1990s and has been blamed for substantial U.S. job loss.
"The facts are when we look at something like Nafta, production and supply chains are deeply integrated across the three countries," Mr. Fields said. "A lot of that integration supports U.S. jobs and we want to make sure we're looking at those facts."
The executive rattled off a list of items important to auto makers that need to be shared with incoming government leaders. He said auto companies need fuel-economy standards that are realistic, a regulatory framework for the safe deployment of autonomous vehicles and stronger stances on currency manipulation.
Fuel-economy regulations are a key concern because low gasoline prices are boosting demand for light trucks, which typically have poorer fuel-economy performance. Mr. Fields pointed to a review of regulations coming in 2017 as an important moment for the auto industry's relationship with Washington.
As for the Nafta disagreement between Ford and Mr. Trump, Mr. Fields said the company will stick with plans to assemble cars in Mexico, but it will continue to discuss the situation with the incoming administration.
"We have conversations with the transition team," Mr. Fields said. "I've sent a congratulatory letter to the president-elect and we look forward to working with the new administration."
It was Mr. Fields's first public appearance since Mr. Trump was elected to the White House last week.
Mr. Fields reiterated Ford's plans to make room for two new products at the Wayne, Mich., facility that currently makes the cars that are being relocated to Mexico.
Write to Tim Higgins at Tim.Higgins@WSJ.com
(END) Dow Jones Newswires
November 15, 2016 17:38 ET (22:38 GMT)
Copyright (c) 2016 Dow Jones & Company, Inc.