BMW, Mercedes-Benz be­come lat­est car­mak­ers caught in Trump cross­fire

WASH­ING­TON – BMW, Mercedes- Benz and Volk­swa­gen are get­ting their turn in the crosshairs of US Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump, who’s mak­ing a habit out of at­tack­ing the vis­i­ble – and free trade-de­pen­dent–auto in­dus­try.

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“The Ger­mans are bad, very bad,” Der Spiegel cited Trump as say­ing to uniden­ti­fied par­tic­i­pants at a closed-door meet­ing Thurs­day with Euro­pean Union of­fi­cials in Brus­sels. “Look at the mil­lions of cars that they sell in the US Ter­ri­ble. We’re go­ing to stop that.”

Trump’s sin­gling out of Ger­man car­mak­ers for con­tribut­ing to the na­tion’s lop­sided trade sur­plus fol­lows re­bukes of Ja­pan’s Toy­ota Mo­tor Corp. and at­tacks on Amer­ica’s own au­tomak­ers for ship­ping cars from Mex­ico. The rhetoric over­looks that BMW AG, Daim­ler AG and Volk­swa­gen AG op­er­ate some of their big­gest fac­to­ries in the world in southern US states, and the im­pact that putting a stop to im­ports would have on the thou­sands of deal­ers who sell Ger­man ve­hi­cles.

“The US pres­i­dent doesn’t ar­gue based on facts but in­stead comes to con­clu­sions based on al­ter­na­tive facts like how many cars are cur­rently parked on a New York road or at the Trump Tower,” said Fer­di­nand Du­den­ho­ef­fer, di­rec­tor of the Univer­sity of Duis­burg-Essen’s Cen­ter for Au­to­mo­tive Re­search.

Gary Cohn, di­rec­tor of the Na­tional Eco­nomic Coun­cil, ac­knowl­edged t hat t he pres­i­dent said Ger­many is “very bad” when it comes to flood­ing the US with cars, but in­sisted it wasn’t a dig at one of the US’s most im­por­tant al­lies.

Trump has com­plained re­peat­edly that Ger­many’s high trade sur­plus with the US is hurt­ing the Amer­i­can econ­omy. In a Bild news­pa­per in­ter­view in Jan­uary, Trump sin­gled out lux­ury-car maker BMW and threat­ened it with a 35 per­cent im­port duty for foreign-built ve­hi­cles sold in the coun­try.

“If you go down Fifth Av­enue ev­ery­one has a Mercedes Benz in front of his house,” he told Bild, while lament­ing the lack of Chevro­lets in Ger­many. Gen­eral Mo­tors Co. has largely with­drawn the brand from Europe.

BMW, Daim­ler a nd Volk­swa­gen de­clined to com­ment on Trump’s re­marks. Com­bined, de­liv­er­ies by the com­pa­nies reached 1.33 mil­lion ve­hi­cles last year, ac­cord­ing to data pro­vided by Wards Au­to­mo­tive Group.

While the US is the sec­ond- largest ex­port mar­ket for

Ger­man au­tomak­ers and the man­u­fac­tur­ers are adding or ex­pand­ing Mex­i­can pro­duc­tion fa­cil­i­ties, the US re­mains an im­por­tant source of their global pro­duc­tion. More than half of the ve­hi­cles the Ger­man com­pa­nies make in Amer­ica are ex­ported.

Ger­man auto fac­to­ries are in Repub­li­can-lean­ing states, in­clud­ing the Volk­swa­gen plant that makes Pas­sat sedans and At­las SUVs in Ten­nessee. In Alabama, Daim­ler pro­duces more SUVs than any­where else in the world and is in the midst of a $1.3 bil­lion ex­pan­sion.

The man­u­fac­tur­ers have re­sponded to ear­lier at­tacks with a mix of de­fi­ance and mol­li­fi­ca­tion. BMW Chief Ex­ec­u­tive Of­fi­cer Har­ald Krueger, one of a small group of busi­ness lead­ers to ac­com­pany Ger­man Chan­cel­lor An­gela Merkel on her visit to the White House, has de­fended the im­por­tance of free trade and noted that BMW’s big­gest plant world­wide

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