VW, Daimler, BMW CEOs poised for White House meeting




VW CEO Herbert Diess, Daimler’s Dieter Zetsche and Harald Krueger of BMW will meet with top administration officials. There was no indication President Trump would attend. Photo credit: BLOOMBERG

WASHINGTON — Top executives of Volkswagen Group, Daimler AG and BMW AG have a balancing act to pull off when they meet with Trump administration officials Tuesday about potential tariffs on U.S. imports from Germany.

The carmakers don’t want the U.S. to enact proposed levies of as much as 25 percent on billions of dollars worth of cars they ship in from Germany every year. But they will be careful not to become entangled in negotiations that rest squarely in the hands of European Union trade officials, according to people familiar with the matter.

VW CEO Herbert Diess, Daimler’s Dieter Zetsche and Harald Krueger of BMW were already scheduled to speak this week at an event organized by the German newspaper Handelsblatt. But with the EU talks at an impasse and a draft report circulating that could lead to levies, the companies accepted a White House invitation — with BMW Chief Financial Officer Nicolas Peter flying to the U.S. instead of his boss — said the people, who asked not to be named discussing non-public information. The manufacturers are seeking clarity to make long-term U.S. investment decisions, one of the people said.

The proposed duties would be devastating to U.S. sales of German-made models including Mercedes-Benz S-class sedans, Porsche 911s and sporty BMW 3-series compacts. VW’s Porsche and Audi units would have their U.S. profits wiped out if the tariff was lifted to 25 percent from the current 2.5 percent, according to Bloomberg Intelligence. Overall, BI estimates vehicle sales valued at 23 billion euros ($26 billion) would be affected.

The executives are set to meet Tuesday morning with U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer, Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross and National Economic Council director Larry Kudlow, the people said. There’s no indication that President Donald Trump will attend, they said.

The U.S. side has been frustrated by a lack of progress in EU talks and is eager to hear directly from the carmakers, one of the people said. Richard Grenell, the U.S. ambassador to Germany, played a role in setting up the White House meeting, while the German government has been prodding the EU to move forward in the broader trade talks. While the EU negotiations aren’t part of the agenda, the topic of increasing U.S. production and investment will be discussed, the people said.

EU Trade Commissioner Cecilia Malmstrom has already suggested to scrap tariffs on cars between the EU and the U.S. altogether. Auto industry officials have voiced support for the proposal, but it didn’t resonate with the U.S. side so far. The U.S. shields its light-truck market for bestsellers like Ford Motor Co.’s F-150 pickup with a 25 percent import tax.

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