Much has been made about President Donald Trump’s potential move to slap tariffs as high as 25 percent on all imported vehicles and car parts, but his administration may have simply forgotten about the classic car market.
Such a gaffe would greatly affect — and possibly cripple — the $180 billion industry, but that was the impression of Mark Hyman, a vintage car dealer who testified before the Commerce Department last week.
“I was the only guy who represented the vintage car industry, which surprised me because, if this happens, it will affect all of us,” he said. “The takeaway from it was I’m certain that the representatives of the Commerce Department never thought about us as a group – the vintage car hobby and industry.”
A list of panel participants showed, while several classic-related industries testified, Hyman was the sole representative who owned a vintage dealership.
Hyman took part in one of several panels where Commerce Department officials collected industry feedback but it seemed, at least to him, that the broad tariffs were intended to hit foreign carmakers, not businesses like his.
“I really think they listened to me and I don’t think that it ever dawned on them that this kind of legislation or tariff would affect our industry,” he said, adding that he understood why officials may have let the multibillion-dollar collector car industry fall to the wayside.
“It really is very small in comparison to the industries that they’re targeting,” he said.
To implement the tariffs, Trump’s administration would have to declare imported cars and parts as a threat to national security under Section 232 of the Trade Expansion Act of 1962. Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross has said automobiles brought from overseas are a threat.
“There is evidence suggesting that, for decades, imports from abroad have eroded our domestic auto industry,” he said in May. “The Department of Commerce will conduct a thorough, fair, and transparent investigation into whether such imports are weakening our internal economy and may impair the national security.”
Hyman said that doesn’t make sense, at least for classic cars.
“I feel very strongly that importing vintage cars to the United States is not a threat and that is why I wanted to make them aware of it,” he said.
The possible oversight gets even more glaring when considering the president has shown an affinity for classic cars, some of which have been imports.
When asked if the Trump administration had considered the impact the tariffs would have on the vintage car market, the Commerce Department’s public information office responded with several links about the hearings, none of which mentioned classic cars.
A follow up email was not returned by publication.
For the most part, the reaction to the tariffs has been negative. A public comment session prior to the panels garnered more than 2,300 comments, a majority of which opposed the measure.
However, union leaders from United Automobile Workers and the AFL-CIO have expressed support for the tariffs. They argued that hundreds of thousands of jobs have been lost since 2000, primarily because of industry shifts to production overseas.
“We believe a comprehensive investigation into the impact of the loss of auto manufacturing and its consequences for our national security and economic well-being is long overdue,” Jennifer Kelly, director of research for the UAW, said during the hearings.
Whether it was a mistake or not, Hyman said the tariffs could pose a significant problem to the classic car market.
“The market for very, very valuable cars is an international market so, by imposing tariffs, it has the potential to change the face of the high-end, vintage car market and that’s my big concern,” he said.
But Hyman was worried about more than American tariffs. He said there was a good chance other countries could retaliate with tariffs of their own, which could endanger his and other vintage cars and parts companies.
“I’ve done deals in Europe where I’ve bought six, eight, 10 cars at one time,” he said. “We always have cars on a ship coming to the U.S. and we always have cars leaving our place going somewhere else in the world. It’s a big part of our business.”
A decision from the Commerce Department was expected to take months, but Hyman said he had plans to head back to Washington, D.C. to ask for an exception for classics should the tariffs be put in place.
“Please grant an extension for the vintage car and the vintage car part industries because in no way, shape or form are (they) a threat to national security,” he said.