Every US-made car is an import. That's bad news for automakers

US considers tariffs on car imports
US considers tariffs on car imports

All new cars sold in the United States will cost more — to build and probably to buy — if the Trump administration imposes an auto tariff.

That's because every car sold in America is at least partly imported.

The Commerce Department is considering tariffs on cars assembled at foreign plants and on foreign-made auto parts. Every car assembled in the United States contains a significant percentage of foreign parts, according to government data.

"There are no purely American vehicles," said Michelle Krebs, senior analyst at AutoTrader. "These are global automakers who use global sources for all types of parts."

Automakers are already warning that tariffs would raise their costs, in some cases by thousands of dollars per car. General Motors said last week that it could be forced to cut jobs.

US regulators track how "domestic" every car is by measuring the percentage of each vehicle's parts and manufacturing that comes from either the United States or Canada.

Related: Canada hits $13 billion of US goods with new tariffs

According to that measure, the two most "American" cars are both Hondas — the Odyssey minivan and Ridgeline pickup. Three-quarters of each vehicle's components are made in the United States or Canada.

The Honda Civic, Acura MDX, Acura TLX and the Mercedes C-class source 70% from the United States and Canada. The highest-ranked car made by a Detroit automaker is the Chevrolet Corvette, which placed seventh. About two-thirds of its parts and manufacturing are from the United States or Canada.

The only automaker that builds all its American cars at a US plant is Tesla (TSLA). But even Tesla imports roughly half the parts it uses.

Related: Tesla finally hits Elon Musk's target for the Model 3

All major automakers have plants in Mexico where they build some cars for the US market, so they would all have to pay a tariff on imported completed vehicles.

But tariffs on parts would nearly double their estimated import cost: Tariffs on parts would cost automakers $35 billion, on top of $48 billion in tariffs on imported cars that are assembled outside the United States, according to the American Automotive Policy Council, a lobbying group that represents the three Detroit automakers.

Related: Ford chairman: Every piece of the auto business is changing

American auto parts makers don't have capacity to build all the parts domestically that are currently imported. Most imported auto parts are made in Mexico and other low-wage countries. So the automakers will probably pay the tariffs and pass along much of the cost.

"Nobody wins in this tariff scenario. Nobody's jobs are saved," said Rebecca Lindland, analyst with Cox Automotive. "Everything is going to get more expensive."

More expensive cars could mean fewer sales — a drop of 1 million to 2 million vehicles, according to the American Automotive Policy Council. That means US auto plants would probably produce fewer cars and cut jobs.

Related: EU warns Trump's car tariffs threaten $300 billion of US exports

Used cars could become more expensive, too. If people are forced out of the new-car market, used car demand — and prices — will rise, according to Lindland and Krebs.

The exact increase in auto prices can't yet be known. Every car has a different mix of parts, and the exact amount of tariffs has not been announced. Automakers may absorb some of the cost to maintain sales.

But estimates show vehicle costs will be significantly higher.

The cost of a car with 35% imported parts would increase by $2,000 with a 25% tariff on parts, according to the American Automotive Policy Council. Toyota (TM) estimates the cost of the Camry, which is built in its plant in Kentucky and is the nation's best-selling sedan, would rise by $1,800 from the parts tariffs. And General Motors (GM) has warned tariffs could force the company to cut jobs at US plants due to an expected drop in sales associated with higher prices.

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