China’s trade threat could hurt German automakers more than US car companies

Key Points
  • Analysis suggests German automakers would be big losers in any US/China trade war.
  • Tesla would also suffer as it has not yet built a Chinese base.
  • Ford, GM and Fiat Chrysler largely build their Chinese products in China.
Michael Sheetz | CNBC

Chinese tariffs on U.S. automakers will hurt German giants BMW and Daimler more than the big U.S. automakers, according to new research.

Beijing has threatened fresh taxes on 106 U.S. produced goods. China's move is viewed as a response to President Donald Trump's list of Chinese imports that the U.S. is taking aim at. China already has a 25 percent tax on all globally imported cars and is now threatening an additional 25 percent hike for U.S.-built vehicles.

Analysts at investment firm Evercore ISI said Wednesday that a "blunt conclusion" was that a 25 percent additional auto tariff would generate a $1.73 billion impact this year on German auto firms BMW and Mercedes owner, Daimler. Thus, the current trade spat looks to be drawing in the top three of the world's largest economies: the U.S., China and now the European Union.

The note added that Ford, Fiat Chrysler, and GM would be broadly unaffected as they largely build their Chinese products in China.

Getty Images

In terms of a negative impact, Evercore claimed that BMW would account for the lion's share, accruing a $965 million hit in 2018. To get to that figure the analysts calculated that BMW will generate almost $4 billion worth of 2018 sales from cars built in the U.S. and then shipped to China. The analysis assumed a transaction price of $60,000 per car.

BMW Group, who sold almost 2.5 million cars globally in 2017, was not immediately available for comment when contacted by CNBC.

In the case of Daimler, the 2018 cost was put at $765 million, based on 51,000 vehicles being exported to China. The analysts again assumed an average transaction price of $60,000 and an annual revenue of just over $3 billion. Daimler told CNBC it would not comment on market speculation or ongoing negotiations between China and the U.S. The firm did add that it was "monitoring the situation closely."

Tesla trouble

The U.S. firm Tesla doesn't provide numbers of deliveries to China but does offer revenue data, suggesting sales worth around $2 billion in 2017. According to Evercore, Tesla could, therefore, be a big loser with tariff impacts potentially reaching $507 million in 2018.

Tesla car dealership in Shanghai taken on March 17, 2015.
Johannes Eisele | AFP | Getty Images

Tesla has reportedly agreed with Chinese officials to build a plant in Shanghai but nothing concrete has yet been announced, with some suggesting that Beijing wants to impose a joint venture arrangement.

The U.S.-based firms Fiat Chrysler and Ford already have Chinese manufacturing plants in place and because of this they are seen as relatively immune to the latest salvo of trade threats. Evercore estimates that Ford would import just under 19,000 cars to China this year at an average transaction price of $32,000. The dollar impact from any fresh tariff would, therefore, total just $151 million.

For Fiat Chrysler Autos, the situation is even less dramatic. Evercore suggested that in 2018 the negative dollar impact would be around $80 million. According to Evercore, GM will export no cars to China from the United States in 2018.