Trump's wish for more US auto plants comes at a tricky time for the industry

Ford CEO: We had a very positive meeting with President Trump

Just two days after President Donald Trump told a trio of auto CEOs that he wants new plants to be built in the U.S., Ford's chief downplayed the idea that his firm would build another final assembly plant here.

Instead, as concerns swirl that demand for new cars and trucks will soon cool off, Ford CEO Mark Fields said told CNBC that his company is "always looking to grow our business, and use the assets we have even more."

Translation: Ford will focus on boosting production at its seven U.S. final assembly plants before it spends well over a billion dollars to add an eighth in America.

"I think we have the appropriate amount of assembly plants here in the U.S.," Fields said.

As much as President Trump would like to see all cars sold in the U.S. actually being built here, the odds of that happening soon are very low. Consider where the auto cycle is right now. After sales climbed to a record 17.55 million vehicles last year, there are many in the industry who think they've hit a peak.

In fact, Goldman Sachs projects U.S. auto sales will drop to 15 million vehicles by 2020. That would be a drop of 15 percent from 2016's levels.

"This is not the time to be adding capacity," said one auto industry veteran, who declined to be identified.

There is already some capacity at current U.S. plants, and every automaker is looking at how they can squeeze more vehicles out of their current assembly lines. For Fiat Chrysler, that could include bringing back heavy duty pick-up truck production from Mexico, and adding it to one of the company's current plants.

"It's possible, if we were to find the right economic environment in terms of taxation, incentives, etc., that we would be in a position to strengthen our U.S. manufacturing of pickup trucks in a significant way," CEO Sergio Marchionne told analysts on the company's fourth-quarter earnings call. That could start with heavy trucks as early as 2019 or 2020, he said.

Both Marchionne and Fields are quick to point out that they want to see how the President's economic plan plays out before they move production back to the U.S. The future of NAFTA and the magnitude of a tax that could be slapped on foreign-made vehicles sold in the America are a few of the big unknowns.

As for the President's goal of having all cars sold in the U.S. coming from a U.S. plant?

"We volunteered to continue to work with him and his administration on policies that will support both investment and job creation in the U.S.," Fields said.

Questions? Comments?

Trump good or bad for autos?