German carmakers found themselves at the receiving end of renewed attacks by President Donald Trump, who reportedly chided them for selling too many vehicles in the U.S., contributing to a lopsided German trade surplus that’s hurting the U.S. economy.
“The Germans are bad, very bad,” Trump told EU officials in a closed-door meeting, Der Spiegel reported, citing unidentified attendees. “Look at the millions of cars that they sell in the U.S. Terrible. We’re going to stop that.”
Trump has repeatedly criticized Germany’s high trade surplus with the U.S. In a Bild newspaper interview in January, he threatened luxury-car maker BMW AG with a 35 percent import duty for foreign-built cars sold in the country. “If you go down Fifth Avenue everyone has a Mercedes Benz in front of his house,” he told Bild, while lamenting the lack of Chevrolets in Germany. General Motors Co. has withdrawn the brand from Europe for some years.
German carmakers like Daimler AG, Volkswagen AG and BMW have responded to the attacks with a mix of defiance and mollification. BMW Chief Executive Officer Harald Krueger, one of a small group of business leaders to accompany German Chancellor Angela Merkel on her first trip to visit Trump at the White House, has defended the importance of free trade and noted that BMW’s biggest plant worldwide is in Spartanburg, South Carolina -- making the manufacturer the biggest exporter on a net basis from the U.S.
Volkswagen, Daimler and BMW shares fell slightly in Frankfurt trading, with BMW down the most with 0.7 percent at 84.71 euros at 10:01 a.m. Representatives at Volkswagen and Daimler declined to comment on the remarks reported by Der Spiegel; a spokesman at BMW wasn’t immediately available.
The German trade surplus rose to a record 253 billion euros ($284 billion) last year, and the U.S. trade deficit widened in January to the most since March 2012. In addition to drawing Trump’s ire, the German imbalance has sparked criticism by European Union leaders including French President Emmanuel Macron.
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