Donald Trump holds meeting with German auto execs amid tariff tensions
President Trump met with three German automakers at the White House Tuesday amid negotiations to create more U.S. jobs and possibly avoid tariffs on imported cars.
Mr. Trump met with Volkswagen CEO Herbert Diess, Daimler CEO Dieter Zetsche, and Nicolas Peter, chief financial officer of BMW. White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders described the meeting with the president as “brief,” although the executives were expected to meet with other administration officials as well.
Mr. Diess emerged from the meeting to tell reporters that Volkwagen would announce investments in the U.S. in January or February, including the possible construction of a plant to make electric vehicles. He said VW could use idled Ford Motor Co. factory capacity.
The hastily arranged meeting, which was not on the president’s public schedule, comes after Mr. Trump has threatened to impose tariffs of 25 percent on imported cars. BMW, Daimler and Volkswagen also build cars in the U.S. at plants in Alabama, South Carolina and Tennessee.
The meeting also comes just after GM announced it would close five factories in North America, laying off up to 14,000 auto workers, including at plants in Michigan and Ohio. The administration has threatened to cut off government subsidies for electric cars in retaliation.
The unusual meeting between the German automakers and the president has irritated the German government, which noted that the European Union’s executive arm is responsible for negotiating on trade with foreign governments.
“Responsibility for trade policy negotiations lies with the European Commission,” Steffen Seibert, a spokesman for German Chancellor Angela Merkel, told reporters Monday. “Not with national governments. And definitely not with the auto companies.”
Mr. Trump said this week that China agreed in talks to eliminate car tariffs of 40 percent, which would be a boon to foreign automakers. Seven of the top 10 car models manufactured in the U.S. and exported to China last year were made by BMW and Mercedes-Benz.
This year, Ford’s Lincoln models have accounted for about half of all exports to China from American automakers.