Are cars still made in the USA?
German automakers in the USA : BMW is the job machine in South Carolina
General Motors, Ford and Chrysler stand for cars made in the USA. But who in the trio is the largest auto exporter in North America? The answer: none of them. Ironically, the German premium manufacturers BMW and Mercedes, so scolded by Donald Trump, are helping to reduce the catastrophic foreign trade balance of the USA. "The Germans are angry, very angry," the president had raged about their sales successes and withheld the essentials. Every year, vehicles valued at around ten billion dollars (equivalent to 8.5 billion euros) are shipped all over the world from the American plants of the two premium brands. In the case of BMW, it is more than 70 percent of US production.
On-site visit in Greenville, a small town in the east coast state of South Carolina: almost 60,000 inhabitants, a good 20 kilometers from the world's largest BMW factory in Spartanburg. This was once the center of the American textile industry - until Tommy Hilfiger, Calvin Klein and other fashion icons moved production to Asia in the 1960s. The consequences were high unemployment, deserted communities, embittered voters who always made their mark on the Republicans.
In 1994, the Munich-based BMW Group came along and built a factory that is now spread over an area of 460 hectares. So Greenville also blossomed, the inner city is now lovingly prepared, exudes southern flair, attracts with bars, restaurants and street cafes. People have more money again - thanks in part to the largest employer in the area.
BMW workers and Trump voters: no contradiction?
In a bistro-trimmed restaurant, Phil and his girlfriend Monica talk about their job. Like 9,000 others, both work at BMW, he on the assembly line, she in the final inspection. Your private car is a Toyota because the cars you work on are “just too expensive”. Both voted for Trump in 2016, as did more than 60 percent in this state. Do you understand the presidential campaign against your employer? Phil's answer is a resounding "yes, but". "Trump wants a fair deal," he explains his view of things. “The other countries should buy more American cars”. But with BMW he got the wrong one, the 32-year-old quickly adds. “I can see every day on the computer labels on our cars where they are being sold,” he says with pride in his voice. "China, Germany, just anywhere". Every night up to 1000 SUV models are shipped around the globe from the specially dredged port in Charleston.
Good Germans, bad Germans? For the Republican governor of South Carolina, the Bavarians are clearly one of the good guys. Henry McMaster, a passionate Trump supporter, called BMW a great “family member” and an example of “fair trade in the age of globalization”. “The German involvement has caused other companies to settle in South Carolina as well,” said the governor and at the same time dared to do the balancing act of a loyal partisan: “I have great confidence in BMW and in the people who work here, and that continued the success story becomes. But I also trust the President that he is taking the right steps to overcome the imbalance in international trade ”.
Workers identify less with their employers
A good 30,000 people are directly or indirectly dependent on the people of Munich. There are as many as 70,000 across the country. And there should be more, as BMW wants to invest another 600 million dollars by 2021 and create 1,000 new jobs at the plant. Most of the so-called X models for the world market are produced in Spartanburg.
However, according to a BMW manager, it is becoming increasingly difficult to find suitable specialists. The reasons for this are, in addition to the numerous suppliers, Mercedes with the plant in Alabama and Volkswagen in Tennessee, which need workers. The situation is exacerbated by the fact that Volvo will also open a plant in Charleston in two weeks' time.
In addition, American workers do not have such a loyal relationship with their company as they do in Germany, for example. "If someone else offers three dollars more an hour, they are gone," the manager resigned behind closed doors. “They then pack their mobile wooden house on a trailer and move on for a few 100 kilometers”.
The bottom line is the realization that BMW is sitting between the chairs and would be equally affected by the threat of higher US tariffs and counter-tariffs by the Europeans and the Chinese. The SUV models built in Spartanburg would become more expensive on the world market. Conversely, US customers would have to spend more on imported models (202,201 vehicles in 2017). The successful models of the 3 and 5 series come from Germany and from next year also from Mexico.
That is why plant manager Knudt Flor spoke of a plan B at the 25th anniversary celebration of Spartanburg last year. “We are prepared for anything, as our production is very flexible. Then we will also build the sedans for the USA here and, in return, reduce SUV production, more than two thirds of which is currently destined for export. "
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