Doing business in Mexico was getting more complicated and dangerous for automakers even before Donald Trump became president.
Violence and criminal acts, including murder, have prompted the U.S. State Department to issue warnings to Americans traveling in Mexico. Detroit automakers have told employees to take even greater precautions if they travel on business to plants in places such as Saltillo, San Luis Potosi and Toluca and Mexico City.
“Due to the current security environment, employees are no longer permitted to rent a vehicle or drive in Mexico,” FCA US states in a memo from its corporate-travel department dated Jan. 12.
“This policy excludes Mexican nationals and expatriates assigned in the country. Corporate security in Mexico is providing shuttle service to and from company facilities, nearby hotels and airports. Personnel traveling to locations outside of the company’s operating areas of Saltillo, Toluca, Santa Fe and Mexico City, should seek transportation from their host party or supplier.”
The FCA memo comes on the heels of federal alerts warning U.S. citizens to take security most seriously when traveling in parts of Mexico, particularly areas with significant amounts of investment by the global auto industry. These areas include Nuevo Leon, where Kia recently opened a plant, and San Luis Potosi, where Volkswagen and BMW operate assembly plants. Ford’s recently canceled assembly plant was to have been built in San Luis Potosi.
“The U.S. Department of State warns U.S. citizens about the risk of traveling to certain parts of Mexico due to the activities of criminal organizations in those areas,” the department says on its website. “U.S. citizens have been the victims of violent crimes, including homicide, kidnapping, carjacking and robbery in various Mexican states,” the memo advises.
The website includes a click-on map of Mexico’s 31 states with a summary of potential threats and hazards in each state.
The note for the State of Coahuila, which includes the municipalities of Ramos Arizpe and Saltillo, where General Motors and FCA have plants, states U.S. government personnel are subject to a 1 a.m.-6 a.m. curfew prohibiting them from driving between Saltillo and Bosques de Monterreal.
“State and municipal law enforcement capacity is limited in some parts of Coahuila, particularly in the north of the state," according to the website.
The maps for San Louis Potosi and the state of Mexico and Mexico City include similar warnings.
The department has issued a similar warning for the State of Sonora in northern Mexico, where Ford operates a plant in Hermosillo. “Sonora is a key region in the international drug- and human-trafficking trades. U.S. citizens traveling throughout Sonora are encouraged to limit travel to main roads during daylight hours,” the agency says.
FCA, Ford and GM say they take their employees’ security seriously and take precautions to ensure their safety while traveling on business.
“We continuously monitor the countries where our employees travel to and work, as their safety is a top priority,” FCA spokeswoman Shawn Morgan says.
Says GM spokesman Dan Flores: “As a course of normal business to enhance the safety of our employees, GM provides guidance and precautions and enforces travel restrictions as needed for GM business travelers who travel to higher-risk areas around the world, including areas of Mexico where we have operations.
Limits on GM employees’ travel in Mexico have been in place for several months, Flores says, noting similar restrictions are in place in Brazil, Venezuela and Egypt.
The automaker recommends that employees not drive in Mexico and instead arrange highway travel through a GM-approved taxi service.
Ford spokesman Sebastian Trotta says the automaker has not changed its policies on employee travel in Mexico, and it has not detected any increase in the risk of living or working in Mexico.
American businesspersons’ safety in Mexico has been discussed for years as drug trafficking and murder by criminal organizations have grabbed headlines all over the world. Ciudad Juarez, located across the Rio Grande River from El Paso, TX, where many suppliers have plants, has earned the nickname Murder City because of its sky-high homicide rate, according to author Charles Bowden, who wrote a book about deaths in the city.
Mexican authorities regularly hold security briefings for U.S. companies investing in the country, according to officials from Mexico’s economic development agency.
About a dozen U.S. and foreign automakers assemble some 30 brands in Mexico.