May 24, 2018, 7:02 PM ET

Auto groups slam Trump administration's imports investigation, possible tariffs

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Two Washington D.C.-based automaker groups are slamming President Donald Trump's decision to launch an investigation into auto imports, which could lead to tariffs on foreign-made vehicles.

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"To our knowledge, no one is asking for this protection. If these tariffs are imposed, consumers are going to take a big hit," said John Bozella, President of Global Automakers, a trade group representing foreign manufacturers doing business in the U.S. "This course of action will undermine the health and competitiveness of the U.S. auto industry."

The legal mechanism for the investigation "has rarely been used and traditionally has not focused on finished products," said Gloria Bergquist, spokeswoman for Auto Alliance, a group that represents foreign automakers like Volkswagen and BMW in addition to U.S. manufacturers like GM and Ford.

"We are confident that vehicle imports do not pose a national security risk to the U.S.," Bergquist said.

Trump ordered the investigation under Section 232 of the Trade Expansion Act of 1962, which allows the president to restrict imports that threaten U.S. national security, including levying tariffs on foreign goods which excessively displace domestic goods or cause substantial unemployment.

"Big news coming soon for our great American Autoworkers. After many decades of losing your jobs to other countries, you have waited long enough," Trump tweeted in the hours before the announcement, which came amid reports that North American Free Trade Agreement talks between Mexico, Canada, and the U.S. have stalled over auto manufacturing rules.

PHOTO: President Donald Trump speaks before signing the Economic Growth, Regulatory Relief, and Consumer Protection Act, in the Roosevelt Room of the White House, May 24, 2018, in Washington.Evan Vucci/AP
President Donald Trump speaks before signing the "Economic Growth, Regulatory Relief, and Consumer Protection Act," in the Roosevelt Room of the White House, May 24, 2018, in Washington.

According to Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, whose agency will lead the investigation, "there is evidence suggesting that, for decades, imports from abroad have eroded our domestic auto industry."

According to the department, over the past two decades, passenger vehicle imports have grown from 32 percent of cars sold nationwide to 48 percent, while employment in motor vehicle production has declined.

Since he first appeared on the campaign trail, Trump has bemoaned the loss of auto manufacturing jobs, and promised in his State of the Union address to "get the Motor City revving its engines once again."

The investigation "will consider whether the decline of domestic automobile and automotive parts production threatens to weaken the internal economy of the United States," the Commerce Department said.

Mexico, Canada, Japan, Germany an South Korea are among the biggest exporters of cars to the U.S.

But automakers' advocates argue that domestic production remains strong.

"Contrary to the assumption underlying the investigation on import vehicles, the U.S. auto industry is thriving," Bozella said.

"Last year, 13 domestic and international automakers manufactured nearly 12 million vehicles in the U.S. The auto sector remains the leading exporter of manufactured goods in our country," Bergquist said. "During the last 25 years, 15 new manufacturing plants have been launched in the U.S. – resulting in the creation of an additional 50,000 direct and 350,000 indirect auto jobs throughout America – and new plants are on the way."

"We urge the Administration to support policies that remove barriers to free trade and we will continue to work with them and provide input to achieve that goal," she said.

This isn't the administration's first foray into a Section 232 investigation.

In March, Trump used his Section 232 authority to slap tariffs on steel and aluminum — another hotly contested policy move.

ABC News' Meridith McGraw contributed to this report.

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CComments

  • Formerly_Hard_Right

    NPR contacted the UAW about this move. The UAW representative said that they had not been consulted about the action and that US car and truck manufacturers export a lot of vehicles and that potential reciprocal tariffs would end up hurting US auto workers.

  • Nick

    He does know that most GM and Ford cars are built in Mexico or Canada, right?

    The most number of cars built in the US are built by Volkswagen, Toyota and Honda.

  • Steve1956

    Where do I get me one of those new spy cars that the dotard is so afraid of.

  • Arc_Fault_One

    Everyone wants better pay, more opportunities and job security but nobody wants to pay higher prices or protect our economy. Automation is taking over so we better keep all the jobs we can as long as we can

  • JuPMod

    For a man who supposed to know business, Trump sure does not know about 'free enterprise' very well. The American people are the consumers, and all consumers decide what to buy. If there has been an increase of people buying cars made by foreign companies, it means they like those vehicles over those made by American companies. I know, given I used to own an used 2008 Ford Focus, but after just two years and only 30K miles, the transmission went bad, and after that I bought a Honda Civic which runs better. So maybe American car companies should make better cars in order to compete with cars made by foreign companies. Trump's 'help' is not going to help American car companies.

  • Andrew

    Crooked donald is going to screw this up too.

  • Friggen Wacko

    Trump understand the global economy about as well as he knows the intricate workings of covfefe.

  • ctla567

    Without imports American car manufacturers would still be building unreliable cars and trucks. Its the imports that push American car makers want to compete.

  • Tony Radcliffe-Hung

    US automakers, here's an idea: Make better cars than the competition with better reliability and performance and at lower price. In other words, actually compete with Japan and Germany, etc. and put out great products like we once did. If you can't do that then don't whine and try to get laws through a scoundrel like Trump to punish us when we buy better products from elsewhere.

    If Americans aren't buying your cars enough it's because the products are sub par. Duh