Skip to main content
Bridge Michigan
Michigan’s nonpartisan, nonprofit news source

Trump in Michigan tells auto workers that EVs are a ‘transition to hell’

Former President Donald Trump appealed to striking auto workers Wednesday in a Detroit-area speech (Bridge photo by Jonathan Oosting)


  • Former President Trump told union workers Wednesday that the U.S. transition to EVs poses an existential threat to their future  
  • UAW negotiations with Detroit automakers ‘don’t mean as much as you think,’ he said, because auto jobs will be gone if he’s not elected 
  • Trump’s visit followed a Tuesday trip by President Joe Biden, who joined striking UAW workers on the picket line

CLINTON TOWNSHIP—Michigan auto workers deserve "fair wages and greater stability" but their jobs could soon collapse because of a government-backed shift to electric vehicles, former President Donald Trump warned in a speech Wednesday in metro Detroit. 

"Your current negotiations don't mean as much as you think" because "in two to three years you will not have one job in this state," Trump said in a speech aimed at striking members of the United Auto Workers union, who 13 days earlier began walking off jobs at Ford, General Motors and Stellantis.

The Florida Republican used his roughly hour-long speech to bash Democratic President Joe Biden's push for electric vehicles and promised to stop what he called a "transition to hell" that will force automakers to close factories and move production overseas, repeating claims Bridge Michigan previously found to be inflated.


In doing so, Trump made repeated and personal pleas for UAW President Shawn Fain to endorse him, not Biden in the 2024 presidential election as he seeks to return to the White House. 

"Shawn, endorse Trump and you can take a nice two-month vacation," Trump said, warning the UAW leader that without Trump leadership in Washington, D.C., "you're not going to have a union, you're not going to have jobs, you're not going to have anything."

Trump's return to Michigan came one day after Biden made history as the first sitting president to join a picket line. Biden spoke to striking UAW members on Tuesday outside a General Motors facility in Belleville. He backed the union's call for a 40-percent wage bump, saying auto workers deserve a "hell of a lot more" than they are currently paid. 

The UAW has not yet endorsed a candidate in next year’s presidential contest but union officials invited Biden to Detroit this week and criticized Trump ahead of his visit, including the Wednesday release of a video showing the former president promising to save auto jobs at an Ohio factory that was ultimately closed

Fain joined Biden at his Detroit-area stop and last week said "every fiber of our union is being poured into fighting the billionaire class and an economy that enriches people like Donald Trump at the expense of workers."

Trump acknowledged in his speech that the UAW typically endorses Democrats, including Biden in 2020, but likened it to an "automatic reflex" that Fain should reconsider. 

"There's no reason for it, and it's a bad habit that hasn't worked," Trump said before several hundred supporters at Drake Enterprises in Clinton Township, a non-unionized auto supplier that specializes in gear shift levers and transmission components for heavy trucks. 

The Wednesday night event was scheduled as counter-programming to the second Republican presidential debate being carried on Fox Business News. Trump has skipped both debates amid national polling showing him ahead of the GOP field.

The UAW's targeted strike began Sept. 15 with walkouts at three factories, including Ford's Michigan Assembly Plant in Wayne. The union last week expanded the strike to 38 parts facilities across 20 states.

With a potential 2024 rematch looming, Biden and Trump are already battling for the blue-collar vote in Michigan, which is the birthplace of the modern labor movement and remains one of the most unionized states in the country. 

As of 2022, 14 percent of Michigan workers — about 589,000 — were members of a union, the 11th highest rate in the country and well above the national average of 10 percent, according to federal data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. 

While striking UAW members are pushing for higher wages, cost-of-living increases and changes to a lower-tiered pay system for new hires, the union has also expressed concern about the industry's ongoing industry shift to electric vehicles, which have fewer parts and therefore require fewer workers to produce, an anxiety Trump has hammered on again and again. 

In his Wednesday night speech, Trump laid out what he called a "vision for economic nationalism" focused on keeping American jobs at home. 

The Biden administration's proposed fuel emissions standards, which are projected to require two-thirds of all new auto sales to be electric by 2032, amounts to a "government assassination of your jobs and your industry," Trump argued. 

"He's selling you out to environmental extremists, the radical left, people who have no idea how bad this is going to be," Trump said. "You can be loyal to American labor or you can be loyal to the environmental lunatics, but you can't really be loyal to both."

Biden has called for a "just" transition to EVs as part of his goal to make half of all new car sales electric by 2030. That would be a dramatic increase in the U.S., where EVs accounted for about six percent of new car sales in 2022, which doubled the prior year.

To accelerate the shift, Biden has authorized billions of dollars in federal grants and loans to help traditional automakers retool existing facilities for EV production. Last year's Inflation Reduction Act also expanded federal tax credits for EV customers. 

Detroit automakers are already spending big to ramp up EV production and compete with other companies, most notably Tesla, the California-based company that uses cheaper non-union labor to produce electric cars. 

General Motors, which plans to spend $7 billion on EV and battery facilities in Michigan, has aims to end production of internal combustion engines by 2035. 

"Why do they all agree to this?" Trump wondered aloud Wednesday. "Why are they not fighting to say it doesn't work."

While Trump largely focused on the auto industry, he occasionally veered into other topics, including attacks on the media, false claims of widespread election fraud and his ongoing legal battles. 

"I get indicted like every three days," Trump joked, referencing felony charges he is facing for allegedly falsifying business records, hoarding classified documents and illegally trying to overturn his 2020 election loss to Biden.  

Trump's campaign billed the Wednesday night event as a speech to union workers, but the crowd was a mix of both blue-collar supporters, white-collar loyalists and party faithful, including Michigan GOP Chair Kristina Karamo, former co-chair Meshawn Maddock and Macomb County GOP Chair Mark Forton. 

Among them was UAW Local 228 member Steve Grzebinski of Clinton Township, who wore a red union "solidarity" shirt and told Bridge he thinks Trump is "for the American worker." 

He pointed to Trump's 2016 threat to impose a 35-percent tariff on Ford vehicles produced in Mexico as part of an attempt to discourage an automaker expansion there. 

"So anybody who is planning on doing that shit, it's coming," Grzebinski said. "Because Trump's gonna be back. He is back."

The 48-year-old works at a Sterling Axle plant that produces parts for Ford trucks and is not currently part of the UAW's targeted strike. But he praised the union for fighting to eliminate a tiered system that pays lower wages to new workers. 

Grzebinski argued that Biden's "electric agenda" undermines his pro-union comments because those vehicles require "less working bodies" to produce.

"Auto workers are traditionally Democrat, but that's not true anymore," he said. "Auto workers are for the American people and keeping our jobs. And this (Biden) administration has proven they don't care about that."

Trump aggressively courted blue-collar workers in his winning 2016 campaign, attacking what he called unfair international trade deals like the North American Free Trade Agreement, which he eventually scrapped and replaced as president. 

Trump won Michigan that year by a razor-thin 10,714 votes, topping Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton by fewer than three-tenths of a percentage point. Biden won the state by about three percentage points in 2020, topping Trump by 154,188 votes.

The Biden campaign this week launched a new television ad attacking Trump ahead of his Michigan visit, noting that auto employment actually fell here during Trump's tenure, which ended as the industry was still recovering from the COVID-10 pandemic.

"Trump says he stands with auto workers, but as president, Donald Trump passed tax breaks for his rich friends while automaker's shuttered their plants," a narrator says.  

New metro Detroit billboards paid for by the Democratic National Committee paint a similar picture, calling Trump the "worst jobs" president since the Great Depression. 

The ads fail to note that Trump's jobs record was marred by the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Michigan had gained about 84,000 jobs through Trump's first three years in the White House but ended up down more than 280,000 jobs by the time he left office, according to federal data.  

The auto industry, however, had begun to shed jobs before the pandemic hit. Michigan lost about 2,700 vehicle and parts manufacturing jobs between the beginning of Trump’s term and February of 2020 and was down about 8,700 by the time Trump left office.

Michigan has gained about 2,400 vehicle and parts manufacturing jobs during Biden’s tenure, though that’s still fewer auto workers than before the pandemic. Across all sectors, Michigan is up 354,400 jobs under Biden but is down about 10,600 jobs compared to February of 2020, before the state's first confirmed COVID case. 

Trump argued Wednesday that job losses would have been even more severe had he not renegotiated international trade deals and imposed various tariffs. 

"I want a future that protects American labor, not foreign labor," Trump said. "A future that puts the American Dream over foreign profits."

How impactful was this article for you?

Only donate if we've informed you about important Michigan issues

See what new members are saying about why they donated to Bridge Michigan:

  • “In order for this information to be accurate and unbiased it must be underwritten by its readers, not by special interests.” - Larry S.
  • “Not many other media sources report on the topics Bridge does.” - Susan B.
  • “Your journalism is outstanding and rare these days.” - Mark S.

If you want to ensure the future of nonpartisan, nonprofit Michigan journalism, please become a member today. You, too, will be asked why you donated and maybe we'll feature your quote next time!

Pay with VISA Pay with MasterCard Pay with American Express Pay with PayPal Donate Now