GENEVA — U.S. automakers may have had scant presence here last week, but U.S. trade policy was top of mind among executives at Europe's annual auto show.
Key officials at German automakers warned that higher prices for American consumers will be unavoidable should President Donald Trump slap new tariffs on European cars shipped to the United States. The head of Volvo's Polestar electric-vehicle brand, which is planning to enter the U.S. next year, also voiced concerns.
A Commerce Department report delivered privately to the White House last month may have concluded that auto imports pose a national security risk, paving the way for levies as high as 25 percent. The Trump administration is holding the threat of auto tariffs over the European Union while pushing for comprehensive trade talks.
If tariffs do go up, "we would then have to look at whether we would have to hike prices on our sedans from Germany," said BMW CEO Harald Krüger during a media briefing. "There would be losers on both sides."
Porsche sales chief Detlev von Platen, who spent seven years running U.S. operations for Volkswagen Group's luxury sports car brand, is holding out hope that a deal can be reached. The U.S. is the biggest source of demand for the company's most profitable model, the 911 coupe. With the sale of 57,000 vehicles annually in the U.S., all of them imported, the brand doesn't have the scale for its own U.S. plant.
"Strategically, the U.S. is an extremely important market, and we have a lot of loyal fans," von Platen told Automotive News Europe. "Much like the rest of the industry, we would be forced to pass on a large part onto the consumer to their detriment."
BMW, Mercedes and Volkswagen have repeatedly argued that they already contribute their fair share to U.S. economic growth. As a group, they have almost quadrupled production at their U.S. factories in the decade since the Great Recession.