IT WAS in the spring of 2016 that Donald Trump singled out Ford Motors, calling its plans to build a plant in Mexico an “absolute disgrace” and promising it would not happen on his watch. Back then, it seemed remarkable that the candidate thought he could boss around a firm of Ford’s stature. On January 3rd Ford cancelled its $1.6bn project in the Mexican state of San Luis Potosí and said it would instead invest $700m into an existing plant in Flat Rock, Michigan, to build electric and autonomous cars.

Ford’s manoeuvre seems more wheel-spin than U-turn. Mr Trump’s strong-arming of corporate America is real enough, and the carmaker will have gained much favour with the president-elect. But its decision can be explained largely in operational terms. The original plan was for the new Mexican plant to build chiefly Focus cars—small passenger vehicles for which demand has fallen, thanks to America’s love affair with SUVs, crossovers and pick-up trucks and to low petrol prices. The decision to scrap the new plant looks far more like Ford reducing its exposure to the small-car game in North America than reducing its footprint in Mexico, says George…Continue reading