File picture: Mike Stone / Reuters.

Berlin – Senior German officials reacted with surprise and defiance on Monday to comments made by President-elect Donald Trump, who threatened Germany's carmakers with hefty import taxes.

Trump said in an interview with German daily Bild and The Times of London that German car manufacturers could face tariffs of up to 35 percent if they set up plants in Mexico instead of the US and try to export cars to the US from there.

Such tariffs would make "the American auto industry worse, weaker and more expensive," Sigmar Gabriel, Germany's economy minister, told Bild.

Gabriel, who is also vice chancellor, suggested more self-confidence in dealing with Trump. He said: "We're not weak and inferior."

Trump, who in his interview Sunday singled out BMW, said the German carmaker could face tariffs if it goes ahead with plans to open a plant in Mexico and sell cars to the US.

Build better cars!

Responding to Trump's complaint that German carmakers don't behave fairly because a lot of German cars are seen in the US, but few American cars in Germany, Gabriel suggested the solution might be that "the US needs to build better cars."

BMW said on Monday that the company would stick to its plans to produce cars in Mexico.

"The production is aimed at the world market," BMW said, according to German news agency dpa. "Therefore the plant in Mexico will complement ... the production plants in Germany and China."