September 6, 2019 / 3:51 PM / 11 days ago

UPDATE 1-Kudlow says GM CEO may go to Ohio with Trump

(Adds GM not commenting, background)

By David Shepardson

WASHINGTON, Sept 6 (Reuters) - General Motors Co chief executive Mary Barra may go to Ohio with President Donald Trump to attend a meeting in the state where the largest U.S. automaker has ended production at a car assembly plant, an aide to Trump said Friday.

Barra, who met with Trump on Thursday, has come under harsh criticism from the president for announcing plans to close four U.S. plants, including a Lordstown, Ohio, assembly plant that ceased production in March.

"Mary Barra is doing her best to open up plants. I think it's possible the president will go with her to a meeting and a discussion in Ohio," National Economic Council director Larry Kudlow told CNBC on Friday. Barra "expressed her support for our reforms on CAFE fuel standards," Kudlow added. GM is not among the four automakers that have reached a voluntary agreement with California on fuel efficiency rules.

GM declined to comment on Friday. Barra said on Thursday the meeting was "productive and valuable," but declined to offer specifics.

Barra and Trump discussed the ongoing contract talks with the United Auto Workers union, the fate of the closing plants, trade issues with China and North America, and the Trump administration’s plan to rewrite fuel economy standards through 2026 during a lengthy meeting, people briefed on the matter said.

GM has been in talks to sell the Ohio plant to electric vehicle startup Workhorse Group Inc and an affiliated, newly formed entity.

Trump has made boosting auto jobs a key priority and has often attacked automakers on Twitter for not doing enough to boost U.S. employment. His 2020 re-election bid will hinge on holding key industrial battleground states like Wisconsin, Pennsylvania and Michigan that narrowly voted for him in 2016.

On Friday, the Bureau of Labor Statistics said motor vehicle and parts manufacturing employment had fallen by 900 jobs to 995,000 over the last year but was up by more than 40,000 jobs since Trump took office in 2017.

Last week, Trump criticized GM on Twitter, writing that the company "which was once the Giant of Detroit, is now one of the smallest auto manufacturers there."

Trump appeared to be referring to a Bloomberg News story last week that reported GM’s hourly workforce of 46,000 U.S. workers had fallen behind that of Fiat Chrysler as the smallest of the Detroit Three automakers. Fiat Chrysler's tally includes temporary workers, but GM has not disclosed its comparable figure.

The president previously attacked GM for building vehicles in Mexico and for ending production at plants in Michigan, Ohio and Maryland. He has threatened to cut GM subsidies in retaliation and in June rejected a request to waive tariffs on Chinese-made Buick Envisions. (Reporting by David Shepardson and Susan Heavey Editing by Chizu Nomiyama and Jonathan Oatis)

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