If a tree falls in the forest, but the press release is quietly issued only in Spanish, does it make a sound?
Well, the UAW heard loud and clear. The union called General Motors' plan to invest 20 billion pesos toward vehículos eléctricos at a plant in Mexico "unseemly" and "a slap in the face."
GM's ham-handed attempt to downplay the news further strained its relationship with Rep. Debbie Dingell, a former GM executive who used to be one of its closest allies in Congress. Dingell was caught off guard by the announcement — days after President Joe Biden called for building more EVs with union labor in U.S. factories — just as she was in 2018, when GM announced plant closures in Michigan and Ohio while adding work in Mexico.
At the time, Dingell called GM "the most thoroughly disliked company in Washington," where few have forgotten the $50 billion bailout that saved it.
Meanwhile, Ford Motor Co. is building its new Mustang Mach-E and Bronco Sport in Mexico, with little public backlash — though a UAW vice president did label the Mach-E decision "corporate greed."
Ford has maintained a more positive and productive relationship with the union, however, in part by assembling in the U.S. 86 percent of its vehicles sold in North America last year, according to IHS Markit data, vs. 64 percent for GM.
GM, once the country's largest private employer, now has fewer U.S. factory workers than either Ford or Stellantis, despite having more market share. It sells a smaller percentage of U.S.-built vehicles in North America than Honda and could slip below Toyota as soon as this year.
Of course, GM can and should make whatever decisions it thinks are right for its business. The responsibility to serve shareholders' interests with tough, sometimes unpopular choices factors into the $23.7 million earned last year by CEO Mary Barra (another source of UAW anger). But the company can't have its pastel and eat it, too. Using a plant in Mexico to build some of the EVs it wants the U.S. to subsidize with more tax credits isn't a good look — in any language.