Op-Ed

‘Not a national security threat.’ Amid trade tensions, Toyota’s allegiance is to Kentucky.

Ivanka Trump joins Toyota presidents, Matt Bevin on signing ‘Pledge to American Workers’

Ivanka Trump, advisor to the President of the United States, joined Toyota Motor North America, Inc. CEO Jim Lentz, Georgetown manufacturing plant president Susan Elkington, and governor Matt Bevin in signing the 'Pledge to American Workers.'
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Ivanka Trump, advisor to the President of the United States, joined Toyota Motor North America, Inc. CEO Jim Lentz, Georgetown manufacturing plant president Susan Elkington, and governor Matt Bevin in signing the 'Pledge to American Workers.'

Amid the ongoing trade tensions, the White House issued a proclamation on May 17 with the conclusion that Toyota’s contributions to the economy along with other international automakers have reduced the market share of “American-owned” companies and thereby are a national security threat.

I can say without hesitation that Toyota’s 8,000 team members at its Kentucky manufacturing plant are not a national security threat. On the contrary, they are an asset.

Our team members have contributed to the economy of this great Commonwealth for over 30 years. They are the faces you see in the community because they not only work here, they also raise their families and give back through regular acts of service and charitable contributions.

As a company, Toyota has donated more than $139 million to Kentucky non-profits since arriving in 1986.

The administration has given trade representatives until November 14 to negotiate trade agreements with certain countries, including Japan. If an agreement is not reached within that time, the president will be able to impose tariffs on imported autos and automotive parts.

The disturbing message sent to Toyota’s American workforce is that they are neither appreciated or valued. Nothing could be further from the truth. When I step onto the plant floor in Georgetown and look into the eyes of the Americans making the Camry, Avalon and Lexus ES, I’m filled with pride and appreciation for all they do for our company, community and country.

In March, Ivanka Trump, advisor to the president, visited our Kentucky plant. During her visit, Toyota pledged 200,000 enhanced career training hours for our American workers over the next five years – far more than any other auto company – foreign or domestic. We made that promise because it is consistent with our philosophy and desire to contribute to society and move people forward.

For example, in 2010, Toyota launched its Advanced Manufacturing Technician (AMT) program in partnership with local community and technical colleges to help build the pipeline of needed skilled workers. We now have over 300 engaged partner-companies under FAME (Federation of Advanced Manufacturing Education) across the country.

To justify support for vehicle import tariffs, the administration claims that a “lag in R&D expenditures by American-owned producers” is weakening innovation and can be “improved by reducing imports.”

Far from weakening innovation, Toyota has been a leader in R&D by open-sourcing our patents in critical technologies such as fuel cells and hybrid electrification as well as through continuous collaboration on new technology.

Toyota is in the midst of a $13 billion investment in the U.S. over a five-year period and Kentucky has been the recipient of a significant part of that.

Our Kentucky-built Camrys and Avalons are among the most American-built vehicles on the market today – they are also among Toyota’s exports to 32 countries around the world. Most every American has a Toyota story and we are very proud that over 36 million Toyota and Lexus vehicles are still on U.S. roads today.

Overall, Toyota has established deep roots in the U.S. Between our R&D centers, ten manufacturing plants, 1,500 dealers, extensive supply chain and other operations, we directly and indirectly employ over 475,000 people. We are also fortunate that 2,500 veterans and reservists are Toyota employees.

History has shown that artificial restraints – like a tariff -- on imported vehicles and parts would stifle investment and jobs, reduce consumer choice and impact all automakers since parts used in manufacturing are sourced from around the globe. If import tariffs – which are really just a tax on consumers -- are imposed, consumers will pay more and have fewer vehicle choices.

We remain hopeful that the upcoming negotiations on trade can be resolved quickly and yield what is best for American consumers, workers and the auto industry.

As Toyota’s largest plant in the world and one of the biggest manufacturers in the Commonwealth, our commitment to Kentucky’s future should never be in doubt or seen as a threat. It will always be rock solid.

Susan Elkington is president of Toyota Motor Manufacturing Kentucky

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