Windsor, Ontario — Linamar Corp.'s CEO is blaming the ongoing slump in North American auto sales on one person: President Donald Trump.
"The softening of the North American car market is 100 percent attributed to Trump's trade policies. It's terrible," Linda Hasenfratz told attendees of the Automotive Parts Manufacturers' Association's annual conference in Windsor.
Trump has been creating uncertainty in the industry since he took office in 2017, first by threatening to rip up NAFTA if a renegotiated trilateral trade pact couldn't be reached and following that up with tariffs on metal from Canada and Mexico. He then threatened tariffs on European auto imports and has slapped billions of dollars in duties on imports from China.
"It's Americans who are paying," Hasenfratz said. "Either the administration doesn't understand [who pays tariffs] or it is deliberately misleading the public. My dad always said, 'crooked and stupid are both bad.' "
Her father, Frank Hasenfratz, is an icon in the auto supply chain. He founded the company, which makes gears and other functional metal parts for the auto industry, as a one-man shop in the basement of his home in 1964.
The anecdote drew plenty of laughter from the hundreds of suppliers in attendance.
U.S auto sales fell for the fifth consecutive month in May. In Canada, the losing streak hit 15 straight months in May.
Guelph, Ontario-based Linamar said during a quarterly report in May that the industry "is softening."
It isn't alone.
Canadian competitor Magna International Inc., for instance, cut its 2019 forecast around the same time "to reflect lower vehicle production globally."
Still, Hasenfratz, who was part of a group advising Canadian Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland during NAFTA talks, has a positive outlook for the industry.
"What's going on politically will have a short-term impact. Tariffs are not something you can have long term. No one has ever built an economy on tariffs," she said.
Hasenfratz said the ongoing uncertainty shouldn't fundamentally change where suppliers and auto makers build parts and cars.
"When you have short-term political issues, they may be used as tactics to get a resolution to something, but ultimately the fundamentals will prevail," Hasenfratz said. "It makes more sense to not have tariffs."
Instead, Canada, Mexico and the U.S. should "find out what each country is great at and be competitive globally.
"Adding costs," she said, "does not make sense."