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General Motors gets on Trump's good side

·Senior Columnist

Never before have business decisions involving billions of dollars been made so fast.

Last week at the annual Detroit auto show, General Motors (GM) executives indicated they weren’t planning anything new to respond to incoming president Donald Trump’s demand for US automakers to create more American jobs. Then, in a rollicking news conference, Trump called out GM by name, urging the automaker to amp up its investments in the United States, as Ford and Fiat Chrysler have recently said they’ll do.

It must have been a wild weekend at GM, because now, just a few days after Trump’s exhortation, the nation’s biggest automaker says it will invest more in the United States after all, creating 5,000 new jobs during the “next few years.” As part of its plan to appease Trump, GM will also move production of some truck axles from Mexico to the United States, creating another 450 jobs. Another 1,500 jobs will be created or “retained” from other investments, for a full tally of 7,000 GM jobs Trump can claim credit for.

The presidential tweet of approval promptly followed:

If you’re feeling a bit cynical and wondering whether GM was planning to do all this anyway—get with the program! This isn’t really about boosting the US economy in sustainable ways and creating the good-paying jobs of the future. It’s about letting Trump declare victory so he can move on and start hectoring some other company. The jobs are certainly welcome, but keep in mind that nobody publishes a press release when they replace workers with robots or cut corners on quality to offset higher labor costs or pass on higher costs on to consumers. Trump is playing a shell game with US manufacturers and he only wants you to see the shell he tweets about. GM is now obliging him.

Other companies that end up in Trump’s crosshairs might note how GM rose to the Trump standard. Taking jobs from Mexicans and giving them to Americans: Check. Hitting the nice, round $1 billion threshold on “new” investment: Check. A bigly number of new jobs: Check. Proximity to Trump’s warning, which allows Trump to say it’s all because of him: Check.

Trump overlooked one complication. GM recently said it plans to lay off 2,700 US workers at plants in Ohio and Michigan that build slow-selling models such as the Chevy Cruze and the Cadillac ATS. Trump could have entreated GM to keep those plants open or tweeted some advice about how to build more appealing automobiles. Instead, he seems to have done the math and concluded that 7,000 new or retained workers minus 2,700 laid-off ones is still 4,300 Trump-inspired jobs, and that’s biggish enough.

So now, all three domestic automakers seem to be on Trump’s better side. Ford (F) earned praise from Trump after killing plans to open its third factory in Mexico—even though it will still move production of the Focus compact from Michigan to south of the border. Fiat Chrysler (FCAU) got Trump tweetlove for a plan to invest $1 billion (there’s that magic number again) in the US, even though the company’s CEO said the plan had been underway for months and had nothing to do with Trump. GM seems to have met or exceeded those standards.

By the way, GM already employs more than 100,000 Americans, and like the other automakers, it has been hiring by the thousands thanks to booming car sales and revolutionary new technology such as self-driving vehicles and electrification. But that was before Trump got elected. The accounting is different now.

Rick Newman is the author of four books, including Rebounders: How Winners Pivot from Setback to Success. Follow him on Twitter: @rickjnewman.