BMW and Hyundai Motor urged the U.S. not to impose tariffs on auto imports, joining General Motors Co. in pressing their case to the Commerce Department even as a top aide to President Donald Trump dismissed the concerns as “smoke and mirrors.”
“It seems that the threat to impose these sanctions is designed to achieve certain goals,” the newspaper Welt am Sonntag reported, citing a copy of BMW’s letter to Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross. The Munich-based luxury automaker said its investment of almost US$ 9 billion in the Spartanburg, South Carolina, BMW plant, supports more than 120,000 U.S. jobs.
Hyundai said the duties would be “devastating” to the Seoul-based automaker and jeopardize its plans to expand manufacturing in the U.S. In comments to the Commerce Department, it also said weakening South Korea’s Hyundai would ultimately hurt Trump’s effort to halt North Korea’s nuclear ambitions.
White House trade adviser Peter Navarro earlier addressed Friday’s stern warning by GM to the Trump administration that it could shrink U.S. operations and cut jobs if tariffs are broadly applied to imported vehicles and auto parts.
“Increased import tariffs could lead to a smaller GM, a reduced presence at home and risk less — not more — U.S. jobs,” the nation’s largest automaker said in comments submitted Friday to the Commerce Department.
That such a blunt statement came from GM — a company run by a CEO, Mary Barra, whose normal tack is to avoid the political fray and let trade groups address the president’s policies — was surprising to industry observers. And it underscored how high she, and many industrial leaders, believe the stakes are as Trump sinks the U.S. into tit-for-tat trade squabbles across the globe. GM’s public pronouncement follows similar moves by Harley-Davidson Inc., Toyota Motor Corp. and Daimler AG.
Navarro shot back at GM on Saturday in an interview on CNN, saying the auto company was using “smoke and mirrors” to deceive the public. He said the impact of tariffs on the price of a GM car was equivalent to “a luxury floor mat.”
“Even the GM cars built here, about half the content is foreign,” Navarro said, adding that U.S. factories had become “assembly plants” stitching together components made elsewhere. In the case of BMW’s massive South Carolina operation, that would be about 1,900 vehicles each day, many of which are exported.
Navarro added that Trump, having passed a tax cut that helps companies like GM and Harley, “felt betrayed” when they then threatened to move production jobs outside the U.S. in response to the retaliatory actions of foreign countries to Trump’s tariffs.
GM’s message came as a surprise because the company has kept close contact with the Trump administration, James Albertine, analyst with Consumer’s Edge Research, told Bloomberg TV.
“So this came as a little bit of a shock to us,” he said, “as we thought they were working more along the lines of making sure the administration knows the severity of the impact tariffs would have.”
Barra had earlier tried to stay on good terms with Trump. She continued to serve on his Strategic and Policy Forum even after many other CEOs, such as Walt Disney’s Bob Iger and Tesla’s Elon Musk, quit to protest Trump’s withdrawal from the Paris climate agreement last year. The forum was disbanded in August following Trump’s tepid response to attacks by white supremacists in Charlottesville, Virginia.