Trump meets with German auto execs, tweets 'I am a Tariff Man'

He outlines 'his vision of all automakers producing in the United States'

WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump met Tuesday with executives from Germany's big automakers amid U.S.-European trade tensions focused on car exports and the threat of tariffs.

Trump "shared his vision of all automakers producing in the United States and creating a more friendly business environment," the White House said in a statement afterward. The statement did not mention whether Trump discussed tariffs with the automakers.

All three companies present — BMW, Daimler and Volkswagen — already produce cars in the United States. In a press release after the meeting, BMW said it "took the opportunity to explain in detail the extent of its footprint in the USA."

German automakers said after the meeting they told Trump they planned to boost U.S. investments, but warned they would be unable to do so if the administration imposed new tariffs.

Volkswagen AG and Daimler AG executives both said they thought the chances that new tariffs will be imposed had been lessened following the meeting.

Volkswagen CEO Herbert Diess said the company was "considering building a second car plant" and was in talks with Ford Motor Co about a broader alliance. He said it could include VW using unused Ford capacity to build cars.

Diess said he thought the companies had "made a big step forward to avoid the tariffs."

Daimler chairman Dieter Zetsche told reporters that additional U.S. investments are contingent on conditions remaining the same. He said the "implicit potential threat" of new tariffs had been reduced after the meeting. Zetsche said it is "impossible" to build all vehicles sold in the United States here because of small volumes of luxury models.

BMW said in its statement that it plans to invest $600 million more at its Spartanburg plant in South Carolina through 2021 for future generations of the BMW X models and will create 1,000 more jobs by 2021.

Executives from the three automakers were invited to individual meetings with Trump's top economic advisers to discuss investment opportunities in the United States, including in manufacturing and research and development, the White House said.

Trump, however, has threatened to slap tariffs on auto imports from Europe and other countries, citing U.S. trade deficits with those nations. Trump is relying on tariffs, and the threat of imposing them, to force other countries to buy more goods from America.

"I am a Tariff Man," the president said Tuesday in one of a series of tweets about a new round of trade talks with China after the world's two largest economies imposed tit-for-tat tariffs on hundreds of billions of dollars of each other's goods after Trump struck first.

"When people or countries come in to raid the great wealth of our Nation, I want them to pay for the privilege of doing so. It will always be the best way to max out our economic power. We are right now taking in $billions in Tariffs. MAKE AMERICA RICH AGAIN."

Trump had threatened to tax imported cars, trucks and auto parts, potentially targeting imports that last year totaled $335 billion, and the European Union had warned that it would retaliate with tariffs on products worth $20 billion if Trump put duties on cars and auto parts from Europe.

But Trump and European leaders stepped back from the brink of a trade war over autos during the summer, agreeing to open talks to tear down trade barriers between the United States and the EU.

Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer, chief economic adviser Larry Kudlow and other administration officials were meeting individually with executives from each of the three automakers.

Kudlow, director of the National Economic Council, said administration officials want to talk to the German car makers "about a lot of things."

"I don't think this meeting or anything else for that matter, right now, is moving toward car tariffs," Kudlow told reporters Monday. "The president has said it's in his quiver of arrows, sure, but none of that's changed."

In Berlin on Monday, German Chancellor Angela Merkel also tried to tamp down speculation about tariffs, dismissing suggestions that the automakers could even conduct trade diplomacy. Merkel stressed that trade negotiations are the responsibility of the EU.

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