Romney: Chrysler may move Jeep production to China

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Courtesy of the Detroit News

Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney takes the stage at a rally at Defiance High School, in Defiance, Ohio, Thursday, Oct. 25, 2012. With less than two weeks to go before an increasingly tight election, both candidates are crisscrossing crucial swing states in an effort to win undecided voters.

Republican presidential hopeful Mitt Romney told a rally in northern Ohio on Thursday night that Chrysler was considering moving production of its Jeepvehicles to China, apparently reacting to incorrect reports circulating online.

“I saw a story today that one of the great manufacturers in this state Jeep — now owned by the Italians — is thinking of moving all production to China,” Romney said at a rally in Defiance, Ohio, home to a General Motors powertrain plant. “I will fight for every good job in America. I’m going to fight to make sure trade is fair, and if it’s fair America will win.”

Romney was apparently responding to reports Thursday on right-leaning blogs that misinterpreted a recent Bloomberg News story earlier this week that said Chrysler, owned by Italian automaker Fiat SpA, is thinking of building Jeeps in China for sale in the Chinese market.

The Bloomberg story, though accurate, “has given birth to a number of stories making readers believe that Chrysler plans to shift all Jeep production to China from North America, and therefore idle assembly lines and U.S. work force. It is a leap that would be difficult even for professional circus acrobats,” Chrysler spokesman Gualberto Ranieri said.

“Let’s set the record straight: Jeep has no intention of shifting production of its Jeep models out of North America to China. It’s simply reviewing the opportunities to return Jeep output to China for the world’s largest auto market. U.S. Jeep assembly lines will continue to stay in operation.”

The Bloomberg story, however, sparked the confusion in the first paragraph of the story, saying Chrysler planned to return Jeep output to China “and may eventually make all of its models in that country.”

But the reporter included Mike Manley, chief operating officer of Fiat and Chrysler in Asia, later in the story referring to adding Jeep production sites rather than shifting output from North America to China.

A Romney representative didn’t immediately respond to a message seeking comment on his remarks.

The $85 billion bailout has emerged as a top issue in the final days of the presidential campaign with both camps trying to win Ohio, which is home to more than 75,000 auto sector jobs.

The President Barack Obama’s campaign seized on the comments. Obama spokesman Danny Kanner tweeted: “Romney shamefully tried to scare voters tonight into thinking Jeep production moving to China. False.”

Campaign spokesman Matt McGrath called Romney’s comments “blatantly false.”

“At an event in Defiance, Ohio tonight, Mitt Romney shamelessly tried to scare voters into thinking Jeep was moving to China and taking American jobs with it,” he said. “That is blatantly false, and speaks to how Romney will say absolutely anything to win votes.

“The truth is that Chrysler is not moving its Jeep production from America to China. As Chrysler said today, ‘Jeep has no intention of shifting production of its Jeep models out of North America to China.’ And what’s more: President Obama has fought on behalf of U.S. auto workers by challenging unfair Chinese tariffs on U.S. auto exports to China, including Jeeps, while Romney would have let the American auto industry and a million jobs go under.”

Obama this week has been suggesting Americans would be driving Chinese-made vehicles if Romney’s opposition to the bailout had prevailed.

“I don’t know how a guy sits on a stage, talking to tens of millions of fellow Americans, and you are saying somehow that you were all for the auto industry when everybody remembers you weren’t,” Obama said in Cleveland on Thursday night.

“If Mitt Romney had been president when the auto industry was on the verge of collapse, we might not have an American auto industry today. We’d be buying cars from China, instead of selling cars to China.”

But it’s far from clear that Americans would be driving Chinese cars since today more than 50 percent of cars bought by Americans are Japanese, German or Korean — and there’s no reason Americans might not have boosted purchase of those models.

Chinese automakers are not exporting any vehicles to the United States, but the United States is exporting a small fraction of total Chinese vehicle sales.

Romney denies that his opposition to the bailout would have resulted in the collapse of U.S. automakers. He argued for putting the companies into bankruptcy first before they received any government assistance. But many experts say GM and Chrysler might not have survived without immediate government assistance.

Obama has not in recent days acknowledged in speeches that his administration forced GM and Chrysler into bankruptcy in mid-2009.

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