BMW exports from Port of Charleston (copy)

South Carolina-made BMW vehicles are loaded onto ships for export at the Port of Charleston. File/Provided/BMW Manufacturing

South Carolina automakers buy more parts from international suppliers than vehicle manufacturers in all but two other states, according to a new report that measures the impact that proposed tariffs on overseas automotive exporters could have on the U.S. economy.

Manufacturers like BMW in the Upstate and Volvo Cars in Berkeley County account for $12.5 billion in spending with international suppliers, according to a report by Driving American Jobs, a coalition of automakers, dealerships and trade groups.

Only vehicle manufacturers in Indiana, at $24 billion, and Ohio, at $15.7 billion, spend more on overseas parts.

The issue is coming to a head because a 180-day trade negotiation deadline President Donald Trump issued in May will expire Wednesday.

Trump has proposed 25 percent tariffs on vehicles and parts from the European Union, Japan and other foreign countries, saying they pose a threat to national security. The import taxes on cars and parts like engines, transmissions and electrical components would raise the average vehicle price by thousands of dollars, the coalition said.

Just as important, they will cost U.S. businesses billions of dollars, leading to thousands of job losses, according to the study.

In South Carolina, more than 113,000 workers count on the automotive industry for their livelihood, generating nearly $6 billion in annual wages. The Palmetto State has 3,693 independent repair shops and 250 new-car dealerships that would feel the tariff impact.

The state's three original equipment manufacturers — Volvo, BMW and Mercedes-Benz Vans in North Charleston — have invested $11.4 billion in campuses that build S60 sedans, X-model SUVs and Sprinter vans.

"Tariffs would hit every sector of the U.S. automotive industry," Driving American Jobs says, "putting domestic employees and businesses at risk in every state."

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It's not clear whether Trump will follow through on his tariff threat. U.S. Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross told Bloomberg they might not be necessary because trade talks with those countries are showing progress. Trump also could impose a lower figure or simply delay his decision further.

European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker also told a German newspaper last week that he was assured no tariffs will be announced. As of Friday, however, there was no word from the White House.

Meanwhile, the U.S. trade war with China appears to be nearing a partial resolution, with both sides indicating last week that at least some tariffs will be rolled back.

That news came as lobbying group Tariffs Hurt the Heartland issued a report showing the tariffs on Chinese-made goods have cost U.S. consumers and businesses $38 billion since February 2018.


Reach David Wren at 843-937-5550 or on Twitter at @David_Wren_