SPARTANBURG, S.C. — When BMW unveiled its redesigned X3 crossover last week at its assembly plant here, the vehicle itself was in the background for much of the ceremony. BMW leaders spent more time touting the plant, its contribution to the U.S. economy and the merits of free trade.
The name seldom spoken but clearly hanging over the event: President Donald Trump, who put German automakers on the defensive during a European Union meeting in May when he reportedly called the Germans "very bad" and vowed to block their exports to the U.S. That followed Trump's January threat of a 35 percent import tariff on cars brought over the border.
BMW emphasized over and over last week that the Spartanburg plant exports more vehicles than any other auto plant in the U.S. Of 1,400 vehicles assembled per day, 70 percent are exported to more than 140 countries.
It makes Spartanburg a testament to free trade, BMW AG CEO Harald Krueger said.
"Free trade has made this success story in the U.S. possible. I firmly believe in free trade and open markets," Krueger said. "It is essential for global businesses and economies around the world to flourish. We will keep investing in our people and in our business in the U.S."
Krueger, who accompanied German Chancellor Angela Merkel on a visit to the White House in March, has invited Trump to visit Spartanburg but the president hasn't taken him up on it.