What Your Favorite Import Cars Will Cost After Trump’s Tariffs Kick In
Would you pay $7,000 more for a Honda Civic Type R? How about $15,000 more for an Audi A7? If your answer is “Hell, no,” you’re not alone.
New cars are expensive, as any loan-seeking, numbers-crunching car shopper will tell you. Huge tariffs on imported cars and parts, the saber being rattled by President Trump in an impending trade war, could make them prohibitively expensive.
How expensive? The European Union is warning that Americans would pay $11,700 more for the average European-built car if a 25-percent tariff becomes reality. (Trump’s threats have included a lower 20-percent penalty on European and Asian imports, but his administration has already slapped a 25-percent penalty on Chinese-built autos, along with levies on imported steel and aluminum). The American Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, the industry's chief lobbyist, estimates that a lower 20-percent tariff would still spike the price of the average imported car, including Asian and European models, by $5,800. Prices of American-made cars would surely soar in turn, in part because automakers would spread tariffs—also known as customs duties— throughout their lineups to soften the blow and hedge their position in foreign markets. Toyota says that even its made-in-America Camry would see a $1,800 price hike, a huge sales disincentive for America's best-selling family sedan.
But German automakers may be sweating the most, because they face war on multiple fronts. Audi and Porsche, especially, would take it on their stylish chins: They don’t build a single car in the States, leaving them especially vulnerable to levies on cars shipped from Europe. China already retaliated last week with a crushing 40-percent tariff on cars imported from the United States, which is terrible news for America’s largest car exporter: Not Ford, silly, but BMW, which sent $10 billion worth of cars abroad last year. BMW tells The Drive that it shipped precisely 81,186 X-badged SUVs to China alone last year from its Spartanburg, S.C. plant, with an export value of $2.37 billion. (BMW exports those South Carolina sport-utes to 140 countries). The looming trade war is already squeezing automakers and kicking off a familiar factory shell game: BMW announced that it will expand SUV production in China, while raising prices for Chinese-export SUV’s built in Spartanburg, where it employs 10,000 Americans. For now, anyway.
The escalating trade war not only puts automaker’s profits and sales at risk, but also tens of thousands of American automaking jobs, everywhere from the Detroit Three to Honda, Toyota, BMW, Volvo, Mercedes, Hyundai and Subaru. According to the Peterson Institute for International Economics, a 25-percent tariff on car and auto parts imports would cost 195,000 U.S. autoworkers their jobs. If trade partners retaliated with in-kind tariffs, 624,000 Americans would lose their jobs, or five percent of the workforce in the auto and auto parts industries, with homegrown auto production falling by four percent.
American livelihoods aside, there’s another depressing blow from a tit-for-tat trade war: Some of our favorite cars, and yours, would cost more. A lot more. We’re not only talking the European models that many enthusiasts live for: Japanese automakers alone built about 3.8 million cars in the U.S. last year, yet America also imported nearly $41 billion of Japanese cars, about double the value of just six years ago. (That’s despite a three-decade, 45-percent slide in the total number of cars imported from Japan). America also imported $21 billion worth of German cars, $16 billion of South Korean cars, and $9 billion of cars built in the U.K. That’s a lot of cars, and a lot of money. But if import-car prices skyrocket, you can bet that many Americans will be hanging onto their own money, foregoing a new car entirely, or considering more-affordable alternatives—including, yes, made-in-America rides. Check out this list of import cars, and what you might be forced to pay for them with a 20-percent tariff tacked on. Like us, you may pass out from sticker shock.
BMW 3 Series
Base price: $36,000 to $67,000
Post-tariff price: $43,000 to $80,000
Who comes out ahead? Cadillac
The Bavarian-built 3 Series remains BMW’s top-selling model. But the franchise saw serious slippage in 2017, falling nearly 16 percent to 59,449 cars. Now, imagine what would happen if a 20-percent tariff forced you to shell out an extra $7,000 for a base-model 320i with a mere 180-hp, four-cylinder engine. Or, to really get enthusiast tears flowing, an extra $13,000 for the fabled M3, kicking its base price beyond $80,000. The unintended winner might be Cadillac, whose 464-hp ATS-V would seem a shrieking bargain at barely $61,000.
Honda Civic Type R
Base price: $35,595
Post-tariff price: $42,500
Who comes out ahead? Ford
To me, Swindon will always be the home of XTC, one of the most brilliant, under-appreciated bands of the Eighties. But this sleepy British ‘burb is also home to the Civic Type R, one of the world’s most brilliant hot hatchbacks. Ironically, the Honda’s 306-hp, 2.0-liter turbo four—which boots the Type R to 60 mph in less than five seconds, and to a 170-mph top speed—is built in Ohio and shipped to Swindon for installation. But while Honda builds about 1.25 million cars in America each year, including Civic sedans in Indiana, the British-made Type R would still face an onerous upcharge. At barely $35,000, it’s a square deal. At $42,000? Bloody hell. Might as well pony up for a used Ford Focus RS, or wait ‘til spring for the 2019 Ford Focus ST. The latter will be built in Mexico, where cars and parts (if Trump doesn't scrap NAFTA as well) cross our border with no tariff, and vice-versa.
Alfa Romeo Giulia
Base price: $40,000 to $75,000
Post-tariff price: $48,000 to $90,000
Who comes out ahead? No one
The Giulia is a singular sport sedan, with the kind of handling brio—and raw power, in 505-hp Quadrifoglio guise—that few sport sedans can touch. But Alfa’s reputation for dodgy reliability already makes the Giulia a stretch for some buyers. Ask them to stretch to a ridiculously higher price, perhaps $15,000 extra on the Quadrifoglio, and many would say “forget it,” but with a stronger F-word. And unless an Alfa fan sees a Cadillac, Camaro or Mustang as a cross-shopping alternative—another stretch—the Giulia’s German rivals all face their own tariffs. No one wins.
Base price: $33,000 to $52,000
Post-tariff price: $39,000 to $62,000
Who comes out ahead? Acura, Lincoln
Hyundais and Kias are great values, right? That hard-earned reputation could change with stiff duties on the South Korean brands’ imports, as opposed to models they build here in the Deep South. The Kia Stinger earned an (imported) boatload of critical love last year, a sophisticated, affordable alternative to Audi’s A7, A5/S5 Sportbacks, and other German rides. Ah, but what if you had to pay $6,000 to $10,000 more for the Stinger? There goes your bargain. Buyers might seek American-made alternatives, despite a lack of truly direct competitors: An Ohio-built Acura TLX, perhaps? A 2019 Lincoln Nautilus sedan? A Buick Tour X wagon might be the closest fit, but oops, that one's actually built in Germany, and subject to any import tax, despite GM's Detroit headquarters address. For Buick, there’s always China, where they already produce and sell the bulk of their cars. Hey, has anyone really thought this tariff plan through?
Porsche 718 Boxster and 718 Cayman
Base price: $58,000 to $84,000
Post-tariff price: $70,000 to $100,000
Who comes out ahead? Pre-owned Porsches
The Porsche 911 always finds a way to soldier on. But the Boxster convertible and Cayman coupe—which together lure only 5,000 to 7,000 annual buyers each year—may be more sensitive to price hikes. These German-built, mid-engine beauties are discretionary purchases, for Porsche aspirers who don’t have an unlimited budget. So if a Boxster GTS or Cayman GTS, now starting in the low-$80,000s, are suddenly priced closer to $100,000—and that’s with no options—then say Auf Wiedersehen to a lot of customers. Since we know how Porsche fans feel about Corvettes (that is, no feelings whatsoever), that leaves a used Porsche as pretty much their only fallback. Loaded Miata? Nissan 370Z? Audi TT? Sorry, all imported.
Base price: $37,000 to $60,000
Post-tariff price: $44,500 to $72,000
Who comes out ahead? Volvo
The XE is handsome and slick-handling, but it’s had to crack a crowded American market for sport sedans, with sales climbing to a modest 9,300 units last year. The aluminum-intensive XE is also the first Jaguar ever built in Solihull, U.K., the traditional home of Land Rover. But we Yanks likely won't do our part to keep that assembly line running, if we're forced to pay daunting premiums on the XE. Ah, but Volvo’s timing is perfect, having just cut ribbons on a South Carolina plant that’s turning out the swanky new S60 sedan. Priced from below $37,000—about what the Jaguar starts from today—it would represent an alluring, tariff-free luxury alternative.
Lamborghini Huracán Performante
Base price: $275,000
Post-tariff price: $330,000
Who comes out ahead? Chevrolet Corvette ZR1
It’s hard to feel sorry for people wealthy enough to afford a Lamborghini, including one as spectacular as the Performante. But a trade war could even throw a destructive grenade at the supercar economy: Rich people didn’t get that way by being stupid with their money. A $50,000 tariff on any imported, $250,000 supercar or ultra-luxury car—one that might be quickly flushed away in lost resale value—is enough to make even highly successful people think twice about their choices. Facing painful price hikes on every Italian, British, German or Japanese supercar, a few might be pissed off enough to say, “You know what? Screw it. I can have a 755-horsepower Corvette ZR1 for $120,000 to start, and use the savings for that awesome wake boat I’ve been wanting.” If Chevy dealers suddenly see slick Europeans in Gucci loafers prowling around, they’ll know the reason why.
Mercedes-AMG E63 S
Base price: $105,000
Post-tariff price: $125,000 (but closer to $150,000 with options)
Who comes out ahead? Cadillac
Another of the world’s great sport sedans hails from Germany, in the autobahn-rocking form of the Mercedes-AMG E 63 S. But a good number of those might stay on the Autobahn, rather than U.S. interstates, if fans get shocked by an extra $20,000 on the sticker. With a decent selection of options (not even the $8,950 ceramic composite brakes), an AMG E63 S will lease for around $1,830 a month. Turn that into $2,400 a month, or an insane $150,000 purchase price after the tariff and options are tallied, and watch customers burn rubber for a better, tax-free deal: A Cadillac CTS-V, perhaps, starting for around $88,000?
Base price: $23,000 to $38,000
Potential price after tariff: $27,500 to $45,500
Who comes out ahead? Volkswagen
BMW’s Mini brand, that enduring symbol of British engineering knowhow, already commands premium prices for such tiny automobiles. But cracks in the veneer have been showing as Americans have begun to reject subcompact cars (See: Ford Fiesta, all Fiats). Slap a $4,500 tariff on a base-model Hardtop—or closer to $7,500 for a John Cooper Works Convertible—and Mini fans may maximize their dollars elsewhere. Perhaps a sporty Volkswagen Golf? Better hurry, though, because VW plans on moving Golf production from tariff-free Mexico back to Germany next year. Something tells me that VW executives have something big to discuss, aside from which one is headed to jail next.
Audi A7, S7, RS7
Base price: $71,000 to $130,000
Potential price after tariff: $85,000 to $156,000
Who comes out ahead? Audi A5/S5 Sportback
Audi must be thanking its lucky stars, or its crystal ball, that it finally opened a $1.3-billion Mexico factory to export its popular Q5 SUV to America, duty-free. The A7 isn’t so lucky, because it’s built in Neckarsulm, Germany. So one of our favorite, most kingly Audis—a throne topped by the incredible, 605-hp RS7 Performance—could see sales toppled by brutal customs duties that might add $14,000 to $26,000 to each car’s price. Audi fans are loyal, but not that loyal. They’re also largely uninterested in Detroit alternatives, so we can see them swallowing pride and stepping down to an A5 or S5 Sportback instead.
Base price: $20,000 to $28,500
Potential price after tariff: $24,000 to $34,000
Who comes out ahead? Toledo UAW workers
Import cars come in all shapes, sizes and corporate structures, including Jeep’s popular small sport ute, built in Italy (and Brazil, and China). What, you thought Fiat-Chrysler was an American company? Either way, buyers will rightly choke if a dealer requests an extra $4,000 or $5,000 for a Jeep shrimpy enough to top a plate of linguine. For that kind of dough, you might as well upgrade to the outstanding JL-Series Jeep Wrangler, built in Toledo, Ohio.