Mazda and Mexico Would Be Hit by U.S. Car Import Crackdown

(Bloomberg) -- Automakers including Mazda Motor Corp. and countries led by Mexico should buckle up: their car businesses could be in for a bumpy ride, thanks to U.S. President Donald Trump.

Trump instructed his Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross to consider conducting an investigation into whether auto imports are weakening the American economy and may impair national security. The Commerce Department said shortly after the White House’s statement issued late Wednesday that it’s beginning the probe.

Mexico -- by far the largest source of U.S. auto imports -- would be most affected if the Trump administration implements any protectionist measures, which could include tariffs the president has floated for months. Canada, Japan, Germany and South Korea would be the next most affected.

Among the world’s carmakers, Mazda, Tata Motors Ltd.’s Jaguar Land Rover unit and Mitsubishi Motors Corp. would be hit hard. All vehicles that the companies sell in the U.S. are imported. About 22 billion euros ($25.8 billion) of sales from European auto producers could be affected by higher U.S. tariffs, according to estimates from Bloomberg Intelligence analyst Michael Dean. Volkswagen AG is most at risk through its production sites in Mexico and due to imports of Porsche and Audi vehicles from Europe.

Shares of Mazda fell as much as 5.8 percent in Tokyo, the biggest intraday drop in more than a year. Mitsubishi Motors fell as much as 4.5 percent and Subaru Corp. declined as much as 3.4 percent. Shares of Mercedes-Benz parent Daimler AG and BMW AG dropped more than 2 percent in Frankfurt, while Volkswagen declined 1.8 percent.

Read more: U.S. starts probe to consider tariffs on car, truck imports

Volkswagen and BMW ship a majority of the cars and trucks from abroad that they deliver to American consumers. Ford Motor Co., Honda Motor Co., and General Motors Co., on the other hand, produce substantial majorities of the vehicles they sell in the U.S. at domestic factories. Tesla Inc. would be completely unaffected, since the electric-car maker builds all of its models in California.

Mexico has become a major manufacturing base for most global car brands, including U.S. ones, as assembly-line workers there earn about one-10th of what their U.S. counterparts make. Trump has blamed low-cost Mexican production for the outsourcing of U.S. manufacturing jobs south of the border.

Trump’s probe request was met with immediate criticism from industry groups that represent both manufacturers and auto dealers, which said protectionist measures would hurt consumers by limiting car supply and making them costlier.

“To our knowledge, no one is asking for this protection,” said John Bozzella, president of the trade group Global Automakers, whose members include Honda, Nissan Motor Co. and Hyundai Motor Co. “This path leads inevitably to fewer choices and higher prices for cars and trucks in America.”

Mazda will continue to pay close attention to tariff policies in the markets it operates in, outgoing Chief Executive Officer Masamichi Kogai said in Tokyo Thursday. The biggest reason for building a plant in the U.S. would be to strengthen the company’s brand, he said.

Read Anjani Trivedi’s take on how Trump’s move would affect Detroit

Mitsubishi Motors said in an emailed statement the U.S. is an important market for the company and that it continues to monitor the situation. Subaru, which makes about half of the cars it sells in the U.S. locally, and Nissan declined to comment. Toyota Motor Corp. will monitor the situation, said spokeswoman Akiko Kita.

“Tariffs are taxes,” said Cody Lusk, president of the American International Automobile Dealers Association, which represents 9,600 franchises that employ 577,000 American workers. “To treat auto imports like a national security threat would be a self-inflicted economic disaster for American consumers, dealers and dealership employees.”

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