Then-presidential challenger Mitt Romney set off a firestorm with a campaign ad that accused President Obama of forcing the sale of “Chrysler to Italians who are going to build Jeeps in China.” The ad eventually even garnered a dubious honor by a fact-checking organization. As it turns out, Romney was right after all.
When the controversy first erupted, Italian-born Chrysler CEO Sergio Marchionne was unequivocal in denying that Jeep had plans to move any of its operations to China. That was on Oct. 30, one week before the presidential election.
“I feel obliged to unambiguously restate our position: Jeep production will not be moved from the United States to China,” he wrote in a letter to employees, according to NBC News. “Jeep assembly lines will remain in operation in the United States and will constitute the backbone of the brand. … It is inaccurate to suggest anything different.”
However, Marchione dodged the issue. The Romney ad never said that the Jeep brand was going to move to China — it only said that Chrysler was going to build Jeeps in China.
Nonetheless, PolitiFact dubbed the Romney ad the “Lie of the Year” and described it as “a lie told in the critical state of Ohio in the final days of a close campaign.” PolitiFact added: “It originated with a conservative blogger, who twisted an accurate news story into a falsehood. Then it picked up steam when the Drudge Report ran with it.”
What a difference a few months make. Monday’s edition of The Detroit News reported that Marchionne announced that some models of the Jeep brand would be built in China.
“As part of our global expansion of the Jeep brand, there are some cars — that because of the price position in the market — can never be made in the U.S. and exported,” Marchionne said at the North American International Auto Show. “We’re going to be announcing the first step in the globalization of Jeep [in China]. There’s another one that’s going to come in Russia. These things are part of a natural process of expansion.”
Marchione advised that while the Jeep’s premier models — Wrangler and Grand Cherokee — will continue to be American-made, “If you tell me I cannot make a [Jeep] Patriot somewhere else, I might as well go out of the market.”
If anyone was misleading here, it wasn’t Romney — it was Marchionne. The decision to add even a part of Jeep’s manufacturing operations to the Far East isn’t made lightly — it requires months of negotiation.
One can appreciate the need for a certain degree of secrecy during such planning stages. That being the case, it would have been better — and far more honest — had he not said anything at all.
Here’s the ad that started it all: