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March 20, 2020 1:15 PM, EDT

Automakers Seek Assistance After Trump Says He’ll Help Industry

President Trump speaks during a teleconference with governors at FEMA headquarters in Washington on March 19.President Trump speaks during a teleconference with governors at FEMA headquarters in Washington on March 19. (Evan Vucci/Bloomberg News)

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Automakers and parts suppliers both asked lawmakers for stimulus measures to help the U.S. car industry cope with the coronavirus, with President Donald Trump signaling he’s willing to assist the sector.

In a letter March 20, industry groups asked the government to delay the implementation of the USMCA trade agreement beyond June 1 in addition to several forms of tax relief, including a deduction or credit for companies providing paid sick leave and a temporary employer payroll-tax holiday.

“Enacting these policies would help moderate the impact of the economic situation our nation faces, which will assist businesses and workers as we work to get various parts of our economy moving again,” the leaders of the Alliance for Automotive Innovation and the Motor and Equipment Manufacturers Association wrote in the letter.

The requests from the groups that represent nearly every major automaker doing business in the U.S. and their suppliers come after Trump said his administration is prepared to help.

“We’re watching the auto industry very much,” Trump said March 19 on a call with state governors. “We’re going to be helping them out at least a little bit and they’ve sort of requested some help, and it wasn’t their fault what happened. So we’ll be taking care of the auto industry.”

His comment was prompted by Michigan’s Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, who said she had concerns about the finances of some auto-parts makers.

The pledge of support came after the Motor And Equipment Manufacturers Association, a trade group for the parts suppliers, urged Republican and Democratic congressional leaders on March 18 to provide relief to address what it said was a liquidity crisis facing small and large parts companies.

In a letter to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and other top lawmakers, MEMA President Bill Long warned that auto manufacturers affected by the virus could see global sales plummet.

“Such a decrease will impact the entire country and any comprehensive economic relief package must provide protection for our essential manufacturing operations,” Long said in the letter.

He asked lawmakers to provide temporary relief from certain tariffs through the remainder of 2020, saying doing so would give companies an immediate cash boost. The group also urged lawmakers to permit manufacturers to access emergency financial grants for distressed companies and a separate grant program to encourage the relocation of research, development and production work on advanced technologies to the U.S.

On March 17, automaker and dealer trade groups urged Trump to issue national guidance deeming auto repair facilities essential businesses that can remain open even as most businesses shutter under orders from states and city officials.

“What we are focused on right now and are very supportive of are broad economic measures that keep the economy on track as we continue to grapple with a very, very rapidly evolving situation,” John Bozzella, president of the Alliance for Automotive Innovation, said in an interview March 18.

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