US President Donald Trump wants to escalate his trade war to include a total ban on German luxury cars, says a report in WirtschaftsWoche. According to the German publication, which says its report results from talking to several unnamed US and European diplomats, during French President Macron’s recent visit to Washington Trump told him that he would “maintain his trade policy until no Mercedes models rolled on Fifth Avenue in New York.”
This news follows news last week that Trump had already asked Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross to launch an investigation into the national security threat posed by imported cars, trucks, and auto parts, as well as wanting to add 25 percent tariffs on imported vehicles. WirtschaftsWoche‘s article points out that just prior to his inauguration in 2017, Trump railed against the Mercedes-Benz vehicles he saw in New York.
When you walk down Fifth Avenue, everyone has a Mercedes-Benz in front of their house.” But that’s not reciprocity. “How many Chevrolets do you see in Germany? Not too many, maybe none at all, you do not see anything over there, it’s a one-way street,” said the real estate billionaire. Although he is for free trade, but not at any price: “I love free trade, but it must be a smart trade, so I call him fair.
The US market is extremely important for luxury German automakers, and a ban on importing new vehicles would be devastating for brands like Audi, BMW, and Mercedes-Benz. But even if Trump gets his wish, an import ban is highly unlikely to have the effect he’s looking for. Both BMW and Mercedes-Benz maintain large manufacturing presences here in the US, in part because any vehicles they build and sell here are exempt from existing import tariffs.
BMW’s factory in Spartanburg, South Carolina, employs over 10,000 workers and produced more than 371,000 cars in 2017. The Mercedes-Benz factory in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, builds a similar number of vehicles, and just last year parent company Daimler invested $1.3 billion expanding the facility. Daimler also has a new factory in Charleston, South Carolina building Sprinter vans.
Daimler declined to comment on the proposed ban, but a spokesperson pointed out that the company supports more than 150,000 jobs here, and 22.8 percent of Daimler’s shareholders are from the US. Audi and BMW had not responded to a request for comment by the time of publication.