A loophole in U.S. tariffs on Chinese EVs has allowed a flood of golf cart imports, and domestic producers are asking Biden for help

The two largest golf cart producers in the US are asking for relief from an existential hazard: a flood of Chinese imports.

Club Car LLC and Textron Specialized Vehicles Inc., both based near Augusta, Georgia, asked the Biden administration this week to slap a 100% tariff on golf carts and other low-speed, often battery-powered personal vehicles made in China — putting them on par with the US tariff on regular Chinese electric automobiles.

“Chinese import volumes have rapidly increased, taking greater consumer vehicle market share while using price benefits from Chinese government subsidies to drive their advantage,” Club Car President and CEO Mark Wagner said in an emailed statement Friday. “We had to take action.”

US imports of Chinese golf carts and other recreational buggies have increased sixfold since 2020, partly because they’re shipped under a product classification where the tariff is lower than those coded as normal-sized EVs. The Chinese carts often avoid higher levies by crossing the border at the lower tariff rate and then undergoing modifications in the US, according to the American companies’ attorneys.

As a result, the golf carts and similar vehicles “are able to skirt the proposed increased duties on electric vehicles” announced by the Biden administration in May, according to a letter filed this week with the US Trade Representative in Washington.

The skirmish between the world’s largest economies is narrow, but it illustrates the scores of loopholes, workarounds, unintended consequences and legal quandaries that accompany the imposition of tariffs across a swath of the economy.

Comment Deadline

Friday was the deadline for public comment on USTR’s so-called 301 case, under which tariffs on Chinese goods are justified.

The filing from Club Car and Textron, which makes E-Z-GO and Cushman carts, was among hundreds of other pleas for either tariff protection or relief posted during USTR’s comment window. The two companies made their case jointly under a group called the American Personal Transportation Vehicle Manufacturers Coalition. 

According to the filing, imports of Chinese golf carts and another tariff classification for similar products called “specially designated vehicles” totaled $916 million last year, up from $148 million in 2020.

Club Car and Textron’s competitors in China have “substantially and systematically undersold domestically produced” vehicles, “resulting in a deterioration in the domestic industry’s performance and a sharp decline in the US industry’s production, capacity utilization, shipments, employment, and financial performance in 2024,” according to the June 25 letter to USTR from the Wiley law firm in Washington.

Their outreach to USTR follows a related case filed with the US Commerce Department and the US International Trade Commission, which alleged dumping of Chinese golf carts and sought relief in the form of anti-dumping and countervailing duties. 

Robert DeFrancesco, a partner in Wiley’s international trade practice, said the process in that case will take about a year.

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