How Dumb Was Donald Trump’s Statement About “Very Bad” German Cars?

About as dumb as a statement about German car imports can get.

byMike Guy|
Culture photo


President Trump took a dump on German car manufacturers yesterday in what appeared to be an amplification of his January threat to impose a 35 percent tariff on German automotive imports. In a speech at the G7 summit, he said, “Look at the millions of cars [the Germans] sell in the US. Terrible. We will stop this.” 

We get it: Trump is always campaigning. When he speaks, it's not to the world, but to comparative handful of Americans who form his committed base of voters. And those voters blindly stand by his America First presidency, during which anything that isn't unambiguously made in America, reported on by the fake news media, or part of the Trump Organization, is shunned as a threat to our security and prosperity.

Trump has time and again criticized Germany's trade surplus with the United States, which he said hurts American manufacturers. In January, he threatened to hit German car imports with a that massive tariff.

Does he support the automotive industry in the US? He probably thinks he does, but statements like this expose an obvious ignorance in what exactly comprises the American car industry. The problem is, these German manufacturers actually employ a lot of Americans, and build nearly as many cars here as they sell here. And that doesn't include all the parts and third-party suppliers scattered around the US. 

Here's a quick briefing sheet for Mr. Trump, should he choose to one day be briefed about the car industry in America.

  • Mercedes, BMW and VW Group combined to sell 1,220,876 cars in the US in 2016.
  • BMW's biggest plant worldwide is located in Spartanburg, South Carolina. It has 8,800 employees and produces nearly 500,000 cars a year—exclusively SUVs.
  • Mercedes recently opened a $500 million production facility in North Charleston, South Carolina, which employs 2,000 people and produces the Sprinter van and some C-Class variants. At the ground-breaking, Nikki Haley, then SC's governor, now Trump's ambassador to the United Nations, told workers and Mercedes executives, “What I want you to know is what we’ve said from the very beginning: We’ve got your back."
  • Volkswagen builds 150,000 vehicles for the American market at its factory in Chattanooga, Tennessee. More than 2,000 workers are employed there.

What is Trump's position on the auto industry? Your guess is as good as mine—but probably better than his. Either way, that statement he made this morning? Really dumb.