Top exporter of U.S. cars? It's a German company that wants uniform crash tests

Posted by Rob Hotakainen on November 7, 2013 

BMW introduced the 4-series Coupe concept during a press conference at the 2013 North American International Auto Show at Cobo Center on Monday, January 14, 2013, in Detroit.

ANDRE J. JACKSON/DETROIT FREE PRESS — MCT

It may come as a surprise that the top exporter of U.S. cars is a company from Germany: BMW.

Its Spartanburg plant in South Carolina, which employs 7,000 people, now produces more than 300,000 BMWs per year, sending 70 percent of them to 140 different countries.

But those countries often have different standards, making it more expensive for BMW to produce its cars. Crash-test requirements, for example, vary greatly between the U.S. and Europe.

It's sure to be a big issue when the U.S. and European Union open their second round of trade talks on Monday in Brussels.

BMW officials made their case for uniform car standards at President Barack Obama’s summit on foreign investment last week in Washington, D.C.

"If we only can agree that we accept mutually the requirements or the standards of crash-testing, that would be already a great success," said BMW North America CEO Ludwig Willisch.

He said Europe and the U.S. have different standards when it comes to controlling emissions, as well.

"The U.S. is more focused on mileage, where Europe is more focused on emissions," Willisch said.

State officials are watching the negotiations closely, saying whatever rules emerge in a new trade pact will go a long way in determining the fate of future U.S. auto exports.

Tennessee Republican Gov. Bill Haslam, appearing at a panel discussion with Willisch, said a reduction in tariffs could increase his state's car exports to Europe by 35 percent.

"So close to $2 billion would be at stake if that agreement would be passed," Haslam said.

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