WASHINGTON — If a key aim of the Trump import tariffs is to make America the global hot spot for auto innovation, industry leaders say the administration is going about it in a strange way.
In a hearing on the tariffs last week, industry representatives argued that walling off the U.S. will turn America into a slacker, not a pacesetter, when it comes to such disruptive marvels as autonomous vehicles.
Yet U.S. Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross hinted that innovation will be the rationale behind the national security argument the department is making to push through duties of up to 25 percent on imported cars and parts.
"The industry is central to the advancement of new technologies such as autonomous vehicles, fuel cells, electronic motors, battery storage, composites and other new materials and advanced manufacturing processes," said Ross, founder of supplier International Automotive Components Group.
He said his department's review of the viability of the domestic auto industry — expected to be completed this summer — will consider emerging auto technologies that are important for the wider economy.
Ross said it was "too early" to say if the administration of President Donald Trump would impose the tariffs, even as many automakers and members of Congress think it is a foregone conclusion. Some political observers privately say they expect to see a connection made between military strength and harnessing new technologies from the auto sector.
But industry officials argued strenuously that protectionist policies will chase away r&d dollars, diminishing the U.S. as a hub of innovation.