The Auto Industry’s Response to Black Lives Matter Protests
Over the last two weeks, many in the nation have come together in protest of reported police brutality against black individuals following the death of George Floyd. While some automakers are adamantly speaking up in support of the Black Lives Matter movement, some are staying silent.
Note: This article will be updated with information as it becomes available. Last updated June 19.
Donations and statements
BMW: After participating in Blackout Tuesday, BMW tweeted the following: “BMW Group stands with those who demand a more inclusive, equal, and just society, that’s why we will be making a donation to the @naacp_ldf in support of the Black community, #wesupportblacklives” with a link the organization’s website. The amount of the donation was not disclosed and, after reaching out for comment, the automaker did not go into details on the amount.
General Motors: Mary Barra, in a message to employees last weekend, wrote: “I am both impatient and disgusted by the fact that as a nation, we seem to be placated by the passive discussion of ‘why.’ There comes a time when we are compelled to stop diagnosing what is wrong and start advocating for what is right.” Barra also said that she would commission an inclusion advisory board of internal and external leaders, including herself. The company announced on June 5 that it would be donating $10 million to organizations promoting inclusion and racial justice. On June 19, the company released a video on social platforms featuring executive vice president Gerald Johnson and linked to an additional statement about Juneteenth and its importance.
Hyundai: After Hyundai ambassadors BTS personally donated $1 million to Black Lives Matter (and their fans raised $1 million to match), Hyundai waited until Juneteenth to release a statement and emailed me, asking to update my story. In the PR, the automaker included a link to a separate diversity website, which explained the importance of Juneteenth and that the company would be donating undisclosed amounts to multiple organizations, including The Brotherhood Crusade Los Angeles social welfare initiative and NAACP social justice programs. You can read the full statement here.
Infiniti: On the automaker’s Facebook and Instagram profiles, Infiniti took a stand against racism in the form of a post stating, “Life should be a right, not a luxury. Black lives matter.” Another post stated, “Having a social platform is a luxury. We will use ours for change,” along with a caption that included, “Our first step to doing our part is to halt our advertising, to make more space for Black voices on social media. We’ll be dedicating our social media to organizations we are supporting and donating to, in hopes that you will join us.” There was no follow-up about the donation amount(s) or which organizations that money would go to.
Mazda: After initial publication and after I had reached out to its brand communications manager, I received an email from Mazda on June 12, which included two internal emails to employees from Mazda North America president Jeff Guyton. The first email (sent June 2) stated that Mazda “remains profoundly committed to a diverse, inclusive and equitable workplace, in actions which are both large and small.” It wasn’t until the second email, sent internally on June 12, that anything regarding a donation was mentioned: “I believe one of the best, most lasting investments to make now is in the education of future leaders, whether for our company or our country, who can represent diverse points of view when they take a seat at the table. Therefore, MNAO will be making a financial contribution to the Thurgood Marshall College Fund.” There was no mention of the donation amount.
Mercedes: Before posting a black square on Blackout Tuesday, Mercedes-Benz published a statement on Twitter about standing up for racial inequality: “When injustice occurs, people have a responsibility to speak out. Companies have a responsibility to take action. We’re making a donation to the NAACP Legal Defense Fund and invite you to join us.” There was no mention of the donation amount.
Subaru: On June 17, over a week after publication of this article and after I had reached out to its corporate communications manager, Subaru released a statement addressing racism in the U.S. The note from Subaru of America president Thomas J. Doll said that the company is “committed to caring, giving and helping” and that it would be making a $500,000 donation to the Equal Justice Initiative. Subaru also plans on taking action within its company via diversity training and improving its hiring practices.
Ford: CEO Jim Hackett and Executive Chairman Bill Ford told employees that the company would “lead from the front” and that, “we know that systemic racism still exists despite progress that has been made. We cannot turn a blind eye to it or accept some sense of ‘order’ that’s based on oppression.” There was no mention of any sort of donation in the full statement and I have yet to hear back after reaching out for comment.
FCA: According to the Detroit Free Press, CEO Mike Manley wrote the following in a letter to employees: “On behalf of everyone at the company, I emphatically reject the hatred and prejudice that still tears at the fabric of our society and which led to the death of George Floyd and so many before him. Although we are seeing the rawness of this issue exposed in the United States, the scourge of racism and discrimination has no respect for international boundaries. As employees of one of the largest companies in the world, we absolutely have the individual and collective power to make a difference. Starting from how we treat each other at work through to creating opportunities for everyone to fulfill their potential, FCA can be a powerful and meaningful force for change.” A rep for the brand told me that the company does not have any plans for a donation announcement at this time.
Honda: The Honda Twitter account retweeted the Honda Inclusion account and said, “After listening and reflecting during this painful time, Honda is putting its beliefs and values into action,” with a link to the Honda media site. In the lengthy press release, which was sent directly to all Honda employees, the automaker discussed the importance of inclusion and diversity. It then went on to list out ways the company is taking steps to help the black community as well as ways others can chip in. While there was no confirmed solitary donation mentioned, Honda has a history of supporting HBCUs and minority-owned businesses through its many charity organizations.
Jaguar/Land Rover: Across its social platforms, Jaguar and Land Rover waited until Juneteenth to make any statements. The same messaging was used for both automakers and read: “This Juneteenth, Jaguar Land Rover pays its respects to all those who have fought for freedom, justice and equality. We proudly stand in solidarity with Black Lives Matter.” There has been no follow-up on any possible donations or actions for change within the company.
Lexus: Along with postponing the world premiere of the new IS out of respect, Lexus took to its social profiles to announce that it was against racism and asked for ways it could help. On Twitter, it said, “Use our comments section to tell us how we can do more to raise awareness in an effort to end unacceptable bigotry and societal issues of violence, killings and racism.” It’s not the most proactive method of helping and certainly speaks to the lack of diversity in the company, but at least it’s looking for ways to help. We’ll see if it follows through with some sort of diversity training or donation. The Lexus media rep has not yet replied to my inquiry regarding a donation.
Mitsubishi: Before reaching out to Mitsubishi, the brand had yet to post anything about the nationwide protests. After reaching out, I received an email the next morning (June 9) stating the company would be releasing statements on all social platforms. The post included the acronym RESPECT, which stands for Respect, Embrace uniqueness, Share best practices, Personal commitment through self-awareness, Educate every employee, Commit to corporate culture change, and Trust. The automaker has not made any statement regarding any donations.
Nissan: Before participating in Blackout Tuesday on social media, Nissan tweeted about its history of supporting the black community. The post stated, “Our hearts are with the families of Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, George Floyd and other victims of racial injustice, and our mission and resolve to be a part of the solution is as strong as it was in 1992.” The statement ended with a hopeful message about the future and then was followed up with another tweet containing a Martin Luther King, Jr. quote. However, there has been no mention of any donation(s) from Nissan or the Nissan Foundation. On June 19, the Nissan Twitter and Facebook accounts shared an insightful blog on the historical significance of Juneteenth.
Toyota: In a post on Twitter (and in a PR), Toyota released a long statement that closed with: “So now more than ever, we will encourage a constructive dialog to guide our actions as we continue to improve how we contribute to society, and inspire unity in every aspect of our lives, our business and our communities. Toyota will find additional ways of doing this by working together with our community partners across North America.” On top of this, an employee posted an email screenshot where the company encouraged employees to observe a moment of silence for eight minutes during the work day out of respect for George Floyd. Toyota’s corporate communications manager, when asked for additional info, stated the brand has nothing to announce at this moment.
Volkswagen: After apologizing for a racist ad just two and a half weeks ago, Volkswagen was sure to make a statement on racial injustice. In a video shared on Facebook and Twitter, the auto brand mentioned the deaths of Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, and George Floyd. It also noted, “Volkswagen Group of America supports our Black employees and Black communities, who are feeling the pain and devastation of these events.” It went on to state that Volkswagen would first inspect its own practices to include more diversity in its workforce. The video ended with, “It’s a time of societal change – change that we, as a company and as a community, have the power to bring about. #DriveBigger.” However, no additional information was shared as to how Volkswagen would make a difference other than its internal training. I have not heard back from VW regarding my inquiry about a possible donation.
After scouring social profiles and press release sites, I reached out to the following automakers to see if they had any plans to make statements or donations. None of them have replied.
Alfa Romeo: Nothing has been posted on Alfa’s social or press sites since the end of May. The last few posts were purely promotional photos and videos, with nothing in regards to BLM.
Audi: All social platforms (and the U.S. press site) for Audi have not been updated since late May. Although MLS team D.C. United recently posted a photo of “I CAN’T BREATHE” on Audi Field and stood up against racism, there has been no official statement from the automaker.
Kia: While Kia has recently done quite a bit to help healthcare workers amid the COVID-19 pandemic, including delivering PPE to hospitals nationwide, the brand has yet to make any statement regarding the Black Lives Matters movement or the protests. On June 16, it posted the first of two teasers on Twitter for a new ad campaign promoting Kia vehicles.
Maserati: Maserati is apparently too busy posting about a new hybrid vehicle debut instead of caring about what’s happening in America. As of publication, the automaker has been silent across all platforms in regards to the Black Lives Matter protests.
Tesla: Elon Musk has seemingly been too busy advocating for workers at the Tesla California plant to get back to work, even with COVID-19 cases spiking in the state, instead of advocating for justice when it comes to black individuals. Nothing has been posted on Tesla’s media site or its social platforms. Musk did state on June 19 via his personal Twitter account that “Juneteenth is henceforth considered a US holiday at Tesla & SpaceX.” No word on any donations or actions being taken.
Volvo: As of publication, Volvo has posted nothing on any social platforms or on its press site in regard to the nationwide protests. Its latest post was promoting the XC90 via an article posted by Bloomberg. An anonymous former employee recently reached out to me following the publishing of this article and sent screenshots of an email sent only to non-white Volvo employees at the Rockleigh, New Jersey, headquarters from senior market manager Tara King. The email asked the “18 Brown people” to record video of themselves saying their name and “I matter” for an internal message that would be sent to the entire company. There has still be no public statement or donation made by Volvo.
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