UPDATE 1-U.S.-Europe trade war must be avoided -German carmakers

(Adds context on car production, exports)

FRANKFURT, March 5 (Reuters) - German carmakers said on Monday that a trade war between the United States and Europe must be avoided, expressing their profound concern after U.S. President Donald Trump threatened to tax car imports.

"Punitive duties can't be the answer," Bernhard Mattes, president of Germany's VDA automotive industry association, said in a statement.

"A trade war between the USA and Europe must be avoided at all costs. In such a trade war there are only losers on all sides."

Trump at the weekend threatened to tax European car imports if Brussels retaliates against his plan to slap tariffs on imports of steel and aluminium as part of his "America First" trade policies.

The VDA, which represents automakers Volkswagen, BMW and Daimler, pointed out that their auto production in the United States at 804,000 units was greater than their exports from Germany and was growing.

German exports amounted to 494,000 cars last year - a fall of a quarter since 2013.

More than half of the vehicles made in the United States by German carmakers are exported, the VDA added, supporting the U.S. foreign trade balance.

Trump's threat to launch a trade war has encountered resistance from fellow Republicans, including Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, where a BMW plant employs 9,000 workers. (Reporting by Ilona Wissenbach; writing by Douglas Busvine; editing by Maria Sheahan and Jason Neely)