Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross said Thursday it was “too early” to say if the United States would impose tariffs of up to 25 percent on imported cars and parts, a suggestion that has been met with harsh criticism from the industry.
The department opened an investigation in May into whether imported autos and parts pose a national security risk and was holding a hearing on the probe on Thursday, taking testimony from auto trade groups, foreign governments and others.
Ross’s remarks came at the start of the public hearing on the proposed auto tariffs.
A group representing major automakers told Commerce on Thursday that imposing tariffs of 25 percent on imported cars and parts would raise the price of U.S. vehicles by $83 billion annually and cost hundreds of thousands of jobs.
Automakers say there is “no evidence” that auto imports pose a national security risk, and that the tariffs could actually harm U.S. economic security.
They are also facing higher prices after tariffs were imposed on aluminum and steel.
The Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, whose members include General Motors Co, Volkswagen AG and Toyota Motor Corp, warned on the impact of the tariffs.
“Higher auto tariffs will harm American families and workers, along with the economy” and “would raise the price of an imported car nearly $6,000 and the price of a U.S.-built car $2,000,” said Jennifer Thomas, a vice president for the group.
No automaker or parts company has endorsed the tariffs, and they have pointed to near-record sales in recent years.
A study released by a U.S. auto dealer group warned that the tariffs could cut U.S. auto sales by 2 million vehicles annually and cost more than 117,000 auto dealer jobs, or about 10 percent of the workforce.
President Donald Trump has repeatedly suggested he would move quickly to impose tariffs, even before the government launched its probe.
“We said if we don’t negotiate something fair, then we have tremendous retribution, which we don’t want to use, but we have tremendous powers,” Trump said on Wednesday. “We have to — including cars. Cars is the big one. And you know what we’re talking about with respect to cars and tariffs on cars.”
The European Union, Japan, Canada and Mexico, along with many automotive trade groups, Volkswagen, and the United Auto Workers union, are among 45 witnesses scheduled to testify during the day-long hearing.
The Commerce Department said earlier this week it aimed to complete the investigation “within a couple months.”