Auto tariffs remain 'open question,' says Trump adviser Kudlow

Daniel Howes
The Detroit News
Larry Kudlow

Detroit — The Trump administration’s threatened tariffs on imported vehicles remains “an open question,” the president’s top economic adviser told The Detroit News Thursday in a one-on-one interview.

“It’s still under investigation,” said Larry Kudlow, an adviser to President Donald Trump and director of the National Economic Council. “The goal here is zero tariffs, zero subsidies and zero non-tariff barriers.”

He’s in town to tout “the American growth story” to the Detroit Economic Club — a story he says will “go on two, three or four years, I reckon. We haven’t had a capital goods cycle. We’re increasing the economy’s potential to grow.”

He continued: “This is a business investment boom — that’s the driver. They haven’t done this with any consistency going back 20 years, to 2000.”

What that portends for the hometown auto industry is unclear. Rising interest rates, softening demand and tariffs real and threatened are beginning to dent bottom lines, even as the administration is proposing to ease Obama-era emissions regulations.

And auto executives who enjoyed ready access to the Oval Office in the early days of the administration privately worry that the president who claimed to be their friend is pursuing destabilizing trade policies. Those complicate investment decisions, cut profits and depress stock prices.

“But they’re making money,” Kudlow countered. “Ordinary folks are making money. For the first time in 20 years, the whole range of the workforce is prospering. It’s not just the top — it’s everybody. I don’t know where that’s going to lead, but it’s very heartening.”

Waving his notes, he added that real disposable income — after taxes and after inflation — are up 3 percent over the past year. And the Atlanta and St. Louis Federal Reserve banks predicts the growth rate could hit 4 percent for the third quarter.