How did BMW, whose U.S. plant has been acclaimed as a symbol of America's resurgence as an auto manufacturer and exporter, become a symbol of the threat to America's manufacturing base instead?
BMW is wondering the same thing.
The plant in Spartanburg, South Carolina is deep in the heart of Trump country. It was the No. 1 U.S. automotive exporter in 2017, producing 272,346 BMW X models for foreign markets, representing a total value of about $8.8 billion, BMW said. That output makes it a net exporter from the U.S., unique among foreign automakers with U.S. factories.
"As a firm, with respect to trade in finished automobiles, BMW lowered the U.S. trade deficit by more than a billion dollars below what it otherwise would have been" in 2017, parent company BMW Group said in comments submitted to the U.S. Commerce Department, zeroing in on President Donald Trump's principal measuring stick for judging the merits of trade relationships.
And yet it's BMW that has been thrust in the middle of multiple trade battles involving China, the EU and Mexico, driven by Trump's insistence that foreign producers and plants are bleeding the U.S. and its economy. The administration has threatened a 25 percent tariff on BMW's imports from Europe and Mexico, while its exports could face retaliatory EU tariffs on top of the ones China has imposed.
BMW and its supporters, especially in South Carolina, have reacted strongly to the tariff threat.
"Recognizing that BMW's Spartanburg facility is the only net exporter plant in the U.S. — shipping about 70 percent of its production to more than 120 countries — it should be exempt from tariffs," said South Carolina Commerce Secretary Bobby Hitt, in an email to Automotive News. Hitt is a former spokesman for the Spartanburg plant.
The American International Automobile Dealers Association said in comments to the Commerce Department that U.S. tariffs would undermine rather than enhance U.S. national security.