For too long, uncertainty over international trade has hung over the auto industry like a bad squall that just wouldn't move on.
The storm of rising populism at home and abroad has seriously and somewhat suddenly threatened the free flow of parts and vehicles that a profoundly global auto industry had long come to expect.
But the view is becoming clearer, even if the forecast is not exactly sunny.
Switching metaphors, the industry is coming out of the 2019 trade season with one win, one loss and one tie.
The win: Democratic acceptance of revisions to the USMCA pact that replaces and updates NAFTA is a win. It may add a few costs, but it secures the ability of the three North American countries to continue to work together and support employment across our national borders. That it could finally eliminate the threat of crippling tariffs against America's two most crucial trading partners is a hopeful sign indeed.
The loss: The U.K.'s almost certain departure from the EU's common market will add costly friction to the industry. It will be more complicated to make or sell autos in the U.K. — and less of both will most certainly happen. But after Boris Johnson's recent victory in parliamentary elections, at least companies have the certainty that an exit will happen — by the end of next month, according to Johnson.
The tie: A phase one agreement with China promises an extended cease fire in the Trump administration's trade war with the world's most populous nation. This is helpful for automakers and is an end to the suffering — mitigated by taxpayers — of American farmers, but it didn't accomplish the intellectual protection and general rebalancing promised by the Trump administration. At least Christmas won't be ruined by the tariffs that have been paid mostly by American consumers.
Yes, we still have many complicated issues domestically, from the battle over vehicle emissions and the fate of the UAW to the impeachment (but not removal) of President Donald Trump and the 2020 presidential election.
But in this annual season of reflection, it's worthwhile to take stock of the things we can change, to lean into those we can't — and to be thankful for whatever clarity we can uncover about what's to come.