By on December 23, 2013

Automakers and auto enthusiasts alike aren’t fond of the differing safety standards in Europe and the United States. Having to satisfy two different standards means increased costs for car companies that want to compete on a global scale and it also means that car enthusiasts on both continents are often deprived of desirable cars on sale in the other market. But according to Automotive News, lobbyists for automakers in the U.S. and Europe are hoping to use current negotiations over a free-trade agreement to harmonize safety standards and they are using academics to make their argument.

The Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, a Washington D.C. trade group representing both domestic and international automakers, the American Automotive Policy Council, and the European Automobile Manufacturers’ Association have commissioned the Transportation Research Institute of the University of Michigan and SAFER, a similar research group at Chalmers University in Gothenburg, Sweden, to find common points between American and European automotive safety regulations.

“Regulators tend to believe that their standards are the best. They have ‘not-invented-here syndrome,’ ” said Gloria Bergquist, a spokesperson for the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers. “We want to show them that our standards may differ in some modest ways, but the ones that we’re looking at harmonizing are essentially equivalent.”

Automakers are hoping to influence the results of the proposed U.S.-EU trade deal known as the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, which the auto industry in both regions supports. About 10% of all trade between the European Union and the United States has to do with the auto industry, either components or assembled automobiles and trucks.

Robert Strassburger, a vice president at the Alliance, says that it’s not as simple as comparing the results of crash tests. There are differences in traffic patterns, driving speeds and weather between the U.S. and Europe and those factors impact the number of accidents and their severity.

“If the world were simple, we could just compare fatality rates in both regions per vehicle mile traveled and call it good. But the reality is: a mile driven here is different than a mile driven in Europe,” Strassburger said. “The study we’re doing is going to account for all those differences on an apples-to-apples basis.”

There are concerns by industry critics, though, that the businesses will try to align the standards by pushing for the least stringent of the rules. At the same time that car companies complain about the cost of meeting multiple standards, of having to engineer cars for each market, they are also fine with selling the same nameplates with differing safety standards if it’s cheaper to build a car for a market with lower standards. A recent TTAC news post described how cars come out of the same factories in Mexico with differing levels of safety equipment based on if they are bound for the U.S. or Latin America.

Adrian Lund, president of the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, said that automakers will have a hard time convincing both American regulators and American consumer advocates to embrace Euro standards. “I think there’s going to be quite a bit of angst about accepting that a European regulation that consumer advocates have had no opportunity to comment on is going to be the law of the land for the United States as well,” he said.

In the late 1990s, car companies doing business in the U.S. petitioned the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration to consider U.S. and European side-impact crash tests equivalent. NHTSA rejected the request, saying that European regulations did not do enough to protect rear-seat passengers.

At the same time, the IIHS believes that American regulators have been slow to adopt some new technologies, citing, for example, Audi’s struggle to get U.S. officials to approve their sophisticated new automatically dimming high beam headlights.

“If you try to do some overarching equivalence, where a vehicle approved for sale in Europe is approved in the U.S.,” Lund said, “that clearly has pluses and minuses.”

The trade groups backing the academic study hope the researchers will have data compiled and a methodology formed by the summer with the finished report published by the end of 2014, in time for when U.S. administration and European Commission officials say that they’ll be hammering out final details on the free-trade agreement.

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36 Comments on “U.S. & Euro Automakers Lobby Free-Trade Pact Negotiators to Harmonize Safety Regs...”


  • avatar
    HerrKaLeun

    I’m all for standardising. But why don’t carmakers jsut design to meet both standards from the beginning? Cost , I know. but car excelling on both tests would have better real world safety performance.

    And how does that compare to cost to have to offer right and left hand cars? I would imagine building cars for the UK et al must be more expensive than making the car safer.

    Another problem with common standards would be the slower adoption of advanced criteria. If the EU feels a car needs to have added safety in on area, they need to wait for US congress to act? and vice versa… if that would be the case, we still would not have airbags and ABS. Common standards only woudl work if the safest requirement would prevail… but in reality the least common denominator would prevail.

    Funny that Audi is complaining about their adapting headlight to get approved. Maybe US regulators know how well and reliable VW electronics are in real life?

    And which cars besides niche cars are we actually missing? All the PSA, Fiat and Renault products? Most cars were offered in the US in one way or another and costumers didn’t buy them or the OEM decided not enough peple will buy them. You need more than safety standars to make car export viable. Meeting safety standards may cost some money, but marketing, dealernetwork, training, repair tools, spare parts etc. cost much more.

    • 0 avatar
      jimbobjoe

      It would be impossible to make a car to meet US and EU standards simultaneously, because in places they don’t just differ, they are contradictory. (Lighting standards are an example.)

      But a good mesh of the standards could result in cars that are safer overall because they meet the concerns of EU regulators and US ones as well. An example of this is that the US is getting a bunch of cars that meet EU pedestrian safety standards, and that is a bonus for us that was not required.

      These standards are not established by Congress in the US, but by agencies with administrative powers. I’m pretty sure it’s the same in the EU as well.

      • 0 avatar
        DenverMike

        It’s not impossible, plenty of cars sell in both the US and EU. There’s way more EU cars that also sell in the US, verses the other way around, but the difference in tariffs might tell the rest of the story. Although it’s definitely difficult for niche OEMs to sell outside of their home markets, But that’s the nature of the beast, regardless of harmonization or tariffs.

      • 0 avatar
        RobertRyan

        The problem is getting standardized US standards as many regulations vary from state to state.

    • 0 avatar
      jimmyy

      Don’t you guys get it? This has nothing to do with standards, and everything to do with EU and US political leaders trying to allow high cost low value auto producers on both continents to get a competitive advantage against the low cost high value Asian producers. That is what this is all about. This is an attempt to gift the high cost unionized workers. But, it will not work.

      • 0 avatar
        Big Al from Oz

        @jimmy
        Here’s a link supporting your views about the ‘Detroit’ culture and UAW. They killed the US Big 3. Something they should be proud of.

        http://www.businessspectator.com.au/article/2013/12/23/automotive/decline-and-fall-motoring-empire

    • 0 avatar
      RobertRyan

      “PSA, Fiat and Renault products? Most cars were offered in the US in one way or another and costumers didn’t buy them or the OEM decided not enough peple will buy them.”

      If they are not on sale then a bit difficult to judge if people want them.PSA does not like the idea of having to build in the US to sell Automobiles. Fiat is pretty much the same as they are trying to get a lot of Chrysler/Jeep production as well Fiat too Italy, without upsetting NAFTA rules.

  • avatar
    Big Al from Oz

    Ah, one of my favourite areas of debate!

    We just drove from South Jersey to Boston (fantastic city, reminds me of Sydney a little).

    Just the differences between the States in signage, road standards and driving habits was amazing. Just as much variation as the difference in the cost of cigarettes. The standards I’m stating is not quality, but actual physical differences in ramp lengths, lane widths, road markings, etc.

    Many in the US might not realise these differences as it is a ‘normal’ part of your driving. Even townships and counties have their own rules. These differences would contribute also to the US’s higher than average OECD death rate from motor vehicle related accidents.

    I do know that the difference between Australia and some Euro countries didn’t vary much as the changes we had in that 6 hour drive.

    It seems this will be a great time for the US to start to standardise it’s own country in the process.

    A change to the harmonised global standards wouldn’t be hard. The US can allow for current vehicles from both sides to be sold side by side. The next crop of new vehicle designs can be adopted in the US with no real additional costs.

    It also appears the rest of the world outside of the US receives the US’s most desirable vehicles and the US loses out. The credibility of this article is aligned to a propaganda push from the North American side.

    I do think that it’s more of a one way barrier, that is, imports into the US, rather than exports out of the US. Just look at which countries allow for ‘grey imports’ and that will give you and indication on how much protectionist regulations impact the US.

    Like I’ve stated in the past, sort of like Beta vs VHS. Unfortunately for the US the rest of the world doesn’t want it’s regulations.

    Australia was the first country to have side crash standards decades ago. Here’s an interesting link about a global side impact regulation.

    Looks like there already is a side impact global standard on the way.

    This article isn’t well researched and written. Inconsistencies and untruths to suit a particular side and argument.

    http://www.minister.infrastructure.gov.au/jb/releases/2013/December/jb017_2013.aspx

    • 0 avatar
      Onus

      Boston is a great place. Either my first or second US city glad you got to see it. Been there many times ( I live in CT ). Or Burlington, Vermont. It’s a hard choice for me. But, both beat New York by a long shot.

      Most of the differences in signage, road design, etc just has to do with age. Take Connecticut for example much of the highway system was built before the interstate system came into play so, much of it doesn’t match modern interstate standards as one could expect. But, they were latter turned into interstate. The new parts are much much better and any parts rebuilt are done to new standards.

      My daily commute involves driving on Interstate with TONs of left exits, sharp curves, no break down lanes, ramps that come out of no where, and lanes that don’t line up. So your in the fast lane and not far down the road your in the slow lane.

      Near my house we have more lanes, modern standards road ( rebuilt in the 80′s ), no left exits, nice ramps.

      On a side note i find Massachusetts to add tons of signs to the standards. See states have a base sign guide that they use and can add whatever else they would like. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Road_signs_in_the_United_States
      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Manual_on_Uniform_Traffic_Control_Devices

      The states that use the national guide with no added junk are the best IMHO.

      States even used to have their own vehicle standards before the advent of FMVSS, and you can technically still create vehicles to meet those standards if you really want to.

    • 0 avatar
      DenverMike

      @BAF0 – There isn’t any kind of outcry or need for a grey market. We had one and it was good for a few quirky sports cars, not much else. We already have most of what’s offered around the world and enough homemade exclusives to satisfy 99.99% of consumers.

      But why would the rest of the world want US’ regulations? Do they even want they’re own? Correct, every market needs regulations, but keep in mind EU regulations were inspired by US regs, but were crafted 100% incompatible to protect they’re own home market. As if their 10% tariff on cars imported to the EU wasn’t enough. The EU tariff on import trucks is 22% and is that’s over the top.

      Clearly the EU has the most to lose and we already have their biggest sellers (that would actually sell in the US), but harmonizing regulations is pointless without equalizing tariffs.

      • 0 avatar
        Big Al from Oz

        @DiM
        Again you are going to make a fool of yourself. Or should I call you AllAmerican?

        The ECE regulatory authority was devised in 1952. DOT was formed in 1967.

        Also, your assumption that ‘Euro’ standards are what the standards currently are shows how little your knowledge is concerning this subject. Maybe if you use google and research before you make a total fool of yourself your credibility would improve.

        Did you read my link? If you research my link you will find the NHTSA will probably adopt these Australian formulated UNECE (GLOBAL as opposed to Euro) side impact standards.

        For a person who has travelled to Spain over 36 times and believes that M series BMW’s were conceived to counter SVO Mustangs your comments holds very little credence.

        Provide links that aren’t supported by the UAW or some far right wing group ie Tea Party Nationalists. A study paper from a university would suffice.

        • 0 avatar
          DenverMike

          @BAF0 – I’m talking about UNECE regs regarding vehicle safety and emissions. Those weren’t around in ’52. It’s not clear what you’re talking about, dumbdumb.

          • 0 avatar
            Big Al from Oz

            @DiM
            Can you provide a link to prove/disprove your opinion.

          • 0 avatar
            DenverMike

            @BAF0 – Suddenly you can’t work a computer? It’s common knowledge and I’ve gave the links on multiple occasions. If you don’t want to save them, not my prob. Since you’re calling me out, provide links that contradict.

          • 0 avatar
            Big Al from Oz

            @DiM
            You tend to make outrageous comments, ie, there is a full size pickup market in Spain.

            I will not waste my time, as I know I can provide links to disprove you. You know I have, as we have had this very debate in the past.

            Now put up or STFU, or get back to work, I hear your UAW call centre phone ringing again.

        • 0 avatar
          Detroit-Iron

          I don’t know anything about ECE regs, but thanks to the all knowing wiki I know that the “inner six” formed a free trade agreement over coal and steel between 1951 and 1958. Were automotive safety standards part of that agreement?

          • 0 avatar
            Pch101

            “I don’t know anything about ECE regs”

            Don’t worry, Al knows even less than that.

          • 0 avatar
            Big Al from Oz

            @Detroit-Iron
            Not hard if you try. Have a read of this and the links at the bottom.

            It quite self explanatory. Read this.

            @Pch101
            Have a read as well. Surprising stuff, I might be correct. Why don’t you provide some links instead of your opinion which is on par with the quality of DiM’s content.

            http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/World_Forum_for_Harmonization_of_Vehicle_Regulations

  • avatar
    Jeff S

    Yes to global standardization of safety and pollution standards for all developed countries. Maybe we could adopt the metric system in the US as well. This just makes sense and ultimately saves the consumer money.

    • 0 avatar
      Big Al from Oz

      @Jeff S
      I do believe standardisation will occur on day, probably not in my lifetime.

      If the US wants a ‘second coming’ after the lax banking and financial regulations along with other different regulations and standards across the board, now is a great time for the US to re-align itself to global standards.

      Some have the view that the US is unique and requires it’s own standards, but this is a fallacy and will cost the US jobs and reduced growth in the future.

      How many companies make batteries, light bulbs to suit their own products? They wouldn’t survive if they did, why should a country be any different.

      The more any consumer product can be standardised the cheaper it will become. Motor vehicles are consumer products and are no different.

    • 0 avatar
      Onus

      Oh don’t get the Metric hatters started.

      I’d love to adopt the metric system. I already use it for 90% of things personally. It’s also to see the Beverage industry finally move to round metric sizes. Sadly the same can’t be said for milk. Cars from all companies are 100% metric now a days.

      This voluntary adoption thing is a mess. So instead of one system we have it much worse, two systems in parallel.

  • avatar
    Beerboy12

    If you think about it, there really is no difference between US driving miles and anywhere else. The forces exerted on a human body in a car crash are identical, no matter where you are in the world. It is a matter of physics.

  • avatar
    Pch101

    They can lobby all that they like, but it won’t happen.

    US safety standards are generally higher than European standards. The US is not going to reduce its standards as a compromise.

    On the other hand, US standards can result in a heavier car. The EU is not going to add the materials needed to match their standards to the US, as that would result in lower fuel economy, which would clash with their priority to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

    A compromise that has each side accepting the other’s standards for imports probably won’t fly for the US, as that merely encourages the automakers to shop for regulators, which arguably places the US at somewhat of a disadvantage.

    But even if they sorted that out, they would never agree on emissions, either.

    • 0 avatar
      Big Al from Oz

      @PCH101
      Another one of my famous and deluded opposing debaters;)

      Show me where the US has better standards?

      Really, Pch101, we’ve had this debate and the US has almost developing nation like road fatalities.

      These are the figure more than crash testing that show how well the US is managing it’s road safety.

      Looking at the data maybe the US should look elsewhere to reduce the deaths on your roads.

      Don’t provide political spin to your argument to justify your opinion. As that is all it is, an unsupported opinion blinded by arrogance.

      • 0 avatar
        Carrera

        Big Al, have you ever looked into how much an average European driver drives per year, Vs an American one? You can’s use the fatalities argument if the Europeans are always on a bus or some other mode of public transportation. Can’t crash, if you don’t drive right? Before you lecture me on my American ignorance, please note that I was born in Europe and lived for 16 years of my life in a 600,000 people town. Yes the roads constantly gave the impression that everybody drove a lot, but that’s because road construction hasn’t kept up with the explosion of the automobile growth. A good 70% of people were taking public transportation to work. Even in Germany where the automobile is king ( they say) you can go from one side ( Bremerhaven) to the other (Czech Republic border) in about 10 hrs. Did it myself in 1997. In Florida where I lived for 20 years, it takes about 7 to 8 hrs just to go from Tallahassee to Miami. My gut feeling tells me that Americans drive many more miles than Europeans which really makes your accident statistic useless ( at least the way you present it).

        • 0 avatar
          RobertRyan

          @Carrera Comparing the back roads of Wales with the Autobahns of Germany is difficult enough, but comparing e US systems with Europe is very difficult as well.

        • 0 avatar
          Pch101

          Your gut feeling is correct; Americans drive more than Europeans.

          I’ve previously explained the matter of fatality rates measured by mileage vs. other measures, including cites from traffic safety researchers who make the same point.

          But the effort to educate him was futile — Al doesn’t understand it, and he never will. You’re better off saving your breath for someone who has reading comprehension.

          • 0 avatar
            Big Al from Oz

            @Pch101
            If you read my comment to Carrera you will see that I’m correct.

            The US has poorer driver training and licencing in comparison to other modern nations. Just look at your heavy vehicle licencing system. In Australia just to drive a vehicle with a 4.5 tonne capacity you need a light rigid licence.

            Our driver training period is greater than 2 years. Law enforcement is another area.

            Just driving here the blatant ignorance of the road regulations is quite astounding.

            In Australia from what I’ve seen many would lose their licences here for 3 years for the disregard they have to conformance to the rules.

            Get booked twice within 2 years in Australia exceeding the speed limit by more than 15kph and under 30kph you will lose your licence for 3 years.

            You guys don’t have the traffic controls we have at intersections.

            Across Australia all roads have identical road markings, even distances apart for the markings.

            I think the US should look within first to reduce it’s third world death rates on your roads.

            Vehicle design has little to do with it, because if you don’t have an accident to start with it doesn’t matter what the vehicle design is.

            From my research the US is gradually working closer with GlobalNCAP.

            Your stance will change, as you see the light and realise there are models out there that might work better than the current US model.

            The numbers reflect this, dramatically.

        • 0 avatar
          Big Al from Oz

          @Carrera
          It’s not as simple as that. In Europe wouldn’t more passengers be in each vehicle on average? So any given accident would increase fatalities?

          What about Canada, Australia, NZ, etc. All of these countries drive the same or even more on average than in the US.

          My point to Pch101 is that the US vehicle standards are not better or worse than GlobalNCAP standards.

          GlobalNCAP is designed to facilitate trade, not impede trade as the US standards are designed. Quite polarising differences.

          Also, I could also state that in the US you don’t drive the amount of miles we do in Australia or Canada.

          Vehicle design has very little to do with the difference between deaths. The biggest differences lie in driver training, licencing in the US, enforcing regulations, poorer infrastructure design and what I’ve noticed the other day large differences in road standards between states.

          On average western European countries have a third less vehicles per 1 000. So wouldn’t you expect the same differences to be reflected in fatality numbers?

          As stated the primary difference between the US (a country acting on its own) and the rest of the globe is purely protectionism to force vehicle manufacture in the US.

          • 0 avatar
            Carrera

            Big Al,
            I am not really sure whose crash standards are better to be honest with you, so I will not debate you on that. Yes, you are right about Europe…there is more occupancy per vehicle I guess because they use public transportation, but how many city buses crash, really? I am not sure how much they drive in NZ or AU, but I’ve lived in Canada as well and they probably drive a little less than in USA ( at least Atlantic Canada). The cities are not experiencing as much urban sprawl as in USA and they have a decent public transportation system. They drive more probably when they are on vacation, but on daily basis most of their commute is probably 5 to 7 miles each way on average if not less. Traffic is a nightmare because just like in European cities, they haven’t kept up, or can’t build due to historic consideration, but distances are short. Yes Canada is the biggest country in the world (area) but not too many drive and work in the frozen wasteland.

  • avatar
    Spike_in_Brisbane

    @HerrKaLeun suggested that it must be more expensive to build RHD cars for the UK than building to the safety specs. I suspect this is not the case. When cars are designed to be global the installation of controls on one side or the other is a matter of process. The steering column, pedals etc will have been engineered not to foul anything in either case. A case in point is the large number of Japanese brands sold in the USA from a country which drives on the left. Other cases include the European luxury marques which sell equally well anywhere. It seems to be uniquely the U.S. manufacturers who make no allowance for RHD and I suspect this is because the big three own subsidiaries in those countries which drive on the left.

    Similarly, if cars were designed from scratch to meet global safety standards there would be many instances where the capability could be omitted if not required. For example, if the Volkswagen Kombi had been designed from scratch to incorporate airbags they could be installed for European delivery and omitted for countries where they were not mandated.

    • 0 avatar
      RobertRyan

      @Spike in Brisbane,
      That is why you get such absurdities of no RHD Corvettes or Camaros(Although the Camaro was initially engineered for RHD as well as LHD) The Koreans and Europeans have no problem producing RHD models but the US has massive problems.

  • avatar
    Lou_BC

    I wonder how Canada got around this alleged problem (homogenized safety rules)because we just signed an FTA with the EU that takes effect in 2 years time.
    My understanding is that EU safety rules will be accepted universally i.e. vehicles can be imported into Canada without any safety or emission changes and Canadian vehicles can go the other way without any changes.
    The irony to that statement is the majority of Canadian vehicles are USA designed and meet all of the USA safety and emission standards.

    I wonder what will happen if in 2 years time I purchased an Amarok diesel and drove it into the USA?
    Will Homeland Security stop me at the border?
    or will someone be eating deep fried crow?

    • 0 avatar
      Big Al from Oz

      @Lou_BC
      I read the other day that Canada will allow European cars to be sold alongside US regulated vehicles.

      I would think the US will be forced to adopt GlobalNCAP standards.

      If you drive an Amarok you might get shot;) Just look at that guy washing his car.

      USA, land of the free if you only buy vehicles that The Big 3 and UAW allow you to buy.

  • avatar
    Lou_BC

    @Big Al – I do hope that countries can figure out a way to unify standards. It would help to keep vehicle prices down in the mid and long term.

    • 0 avatar
      Big Al from Oz

      @Lou_BC
      It will occur in the US, within a decade.

      Part on GlobalENCAP is the implementation of Euro emission standards. The US uses a mix of CAFE and EPA to protect its pickup and light commercial vehicles. Don’t forget the chicken tax. If it wasn’t for the US’s protected pickup market it would have already adopted GlobalENCAP. That is an opinion.

      The US as well as Canada have been attending GlobalENCAP meetings and contributing to the harmonisation of standards.


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