BMW AG (IW 1000/27) is bolstering its best defense against Donald Trump’s trade tiff with Germany, boosting its investment and employment in America and even inviting the president to join the party.
The German automaker is unveiling the revamped X3 sport utility vehicle at its plant in Spartanburg, S.C., to celebrate the 25-year anniversary of its U.S. factory. The facility is BMW’s biggest in the world and an important shield against Trump, who has threatened carmakers over their imports -- and declined the company’s solicitation to attend Monday’s festivities.
“Free trade has made this success story in the U.S. possible,” BMW Chief Executive Officer Harald Krueger said on June 26. “It is essential for global businesses and economies around the world to flourish.”
The redesigned X3, on sale this fall, will reinforce BMW’s position as America’s biggest car exporter on a net basis, with vehicles worth more than $10 billion shipped abroad per year. While Trump’s early pronouncements targeting carmakers have receded as other political fires consume his time, the growth at the Spartanburg site helps the second-biggest luxury carmaker build goodwill with the White House and guard against the attacks returning.
BMW has invested $8 billion in the Spartanburg plant since it was announced in 1992 and will spend another $600 million between 2018 and 2021. The factory employs more than 9,000 people, with another 1,000 jobs to be added through that same year. Production climbed to a record 411,000 units last year, with about 70% of those vehicles exported.
“The investment automakers make in communities and the jobs they create has been especially important because of Trump,” said Michelle Krebs, an analyst with Autotrader. The X3 is “an important vehicle because it’s in that hot SUV-selling space.”
The model has been a bright spot for BMW in the U.S. this year, with sales jumping 30 percent through May amidst a largely flat luxury market. The Spartanburg plant also is getting ready for production of the all-new X7, which will debut late next year.
The overhauled X3 is decked out with new technology including optional hand-gesture control and a driver-assistance system that helps drivers change lanes and maintain distance from other motorists.
Tech may not be enough, however, to shake the perception that BMW’s cautious styling decisions are contributing to market share losses against rival Mercedes, which has widened its sales lead over BMW in the U.S. this year. Consumer perceptions of the BMW brand are average or slightly above average, and the points it earns on styling have been in decline since 2010, according to Kelly Blue Book’s Brand Watch metrics.
Trump singled out BMW in January, threatening to slap the automaker with a 35 percent import duty for foreign-built cars if it proceeded with plans to open a new plant in Mexico, according to German newspaper Bild. He reportedly told European Union officials in a closed-door meeting in May that there would be a stop put on the millions of vehicles German automakers sell in the U.S.
By Gabrielle Coppola and Elisabeth Behrmann