How Much Does Homologation Really Cost?

Derek Kreindler
by Derek Kreindler

Being teased with a desirable but unavailable variant of a car sold on our shores is as inevitable as death and taxes. Every year, there is some new supercar station wago n, ultra-efficient diesel or hot hatch/rally special that seems just within our grasp. Inevitably we learn that it won’t be making its way to America for a variety of reasons. Ultimately, it boils down to one simple factor: it would cost too much to bring it over.

The cost-benefit analysis is a cold reality of the automotive world, which is in the business of making money from selling cars, rather than a charity that provides enthusiasts with playthings to lust after, but not buy. Hard to believe I know. The most enthusiastic among us are also the quickest to dismiss the lack of profit potential as a legitimate reason for not bringing over their pet vehicle of choice, and I think part of this stems from not being able to give them a one-size-fits-all answer. Every single case is different, with wildly varying requirements for volume, pricing, regulatory compliance and other factors. But the theme remains the same. OEMs would not be able to recoup the cost of certifying the car through sales of the (often niche, low volume and/or expensive) vehicle.

While reading an old report from noted automotive consultant Glenn Mercer, I found this slide (above, and on page 10 of his report on Chinese cars), which outlines what it took to bring the Elise over to America. The pricetag: a whopping $50 million and 16 months time, and this is with a special airbag waiver that exempted them from having to install (and likely develop) FMVSS-complaint airbags – something that would have significantly added to the overall cost.

Is it likely that Lotus made money on the Elise? Who knows. Perhaps they were able to simultaneously federalize components for the European Elise and the Evora and realize some cost savings? Then again, given the constantly precarious financial situation Lotus seems to be in, maybe not. But at the very least, it gives us a perspective on how expensive it is to bring a low volume enthusiast model over to America. Think Audi can recoup the costs of something like an RS6 Avant or even an S4 Avant given what it would cost? On the other hand, Mercedes, which already has both the E-Class wagon and the AMG V8 compliant with FMVSS, meaning much of the work and cost is already done. Now you know why our pleas often fall on deaf ears – and how blessed we are when we end up getting something cool.

Derek Kreindler
Derek Kreindler

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  • Spike_in_Brisbane Spike_in_Brisbane on Dec 13, 2013

    US regulations may differ from those in Europe or here in Australia and maybe safety concerns are at issue. However, in my time in California, I was amazed at the lack of enforcement of safety standards on individuals. I saw plenty of pickups jacked up so high that their bumpers would go straight through your windows and their headlights were blinding. I saw cars with window tinting so dark I thought I was following a funeral. Lots of cars have wide wheels extending beyond the fenders. Lights have dark lenses or multi colors installed after market. Tow bars and bike racks are installed which would act like a guillotine in a rear ender. These cars would be impounded very quickly here so I do not believe that a societal demand for safety is behind the U S compliance uniqueness.

    • See 8 previous
    • 28-Cars-Later 28-Cars-Later on Dec 14, 2013

      @Pch101 Seems as if you need to change the drivers instead of the equipment if you want to lower crash rates.

  • HotPotato HotPotato on Dec 15, 2013

    Speaking of emissions... I wish we would go to remote sensing for emissions testing. Here in California, so many a$$holes remove their catalytic converters under the mistaken impression it will improve performance, then swap them back in at test time. I've been stuck behind these a$$holes in catless lifted pickups on 2-lane roads where you can't pass. I've been stuck behind these a$$holes in catless cut-spring Civics in L.A.'s parking-lot traffic where you can't move. (Apparently a$$holes like messing with ride height as much as they like giving my kid asthma attacks.) It's like being in a damn gas chamber riding behind these dip$hits. So here's the proposal: instead of requiring periodic inspections, which waste the the time and money of motorists who maintain their cars while allowing the a$$holes to cheat, just deploy remote-sensing exhaust-sniffers roadside, linked to license-plate cams. Send the fix-it tickets automatically. Three strikes and the a$$hole's car goes to the crusher...and the rest of us go about our business unmolested.

    • Highdesertcat Highdesertcat on Dec 15, 2013

      "Here in California, so many a$$holes remove their catalytic converters" Not just in California. It's pretty much standard practice in every state with mandatory smog-test requirement, and most often done by people who intend to keep their cars a long, long time. Catalytic converters are very expensive to replace, so they limit use on the original. Since I live closest to Texas, and see this on a daily basis, I know exactly what you mean about the unburned exhaust gases that tickle the throat and bronchials. I don't have asthma but the acrid, unconverted exhaust gas does evoke coughing and choking, especially if these people whiz past you doing 85+ mph. It's not bad when they are standing still, idling. It's the higher rpm of high-speed driving that really dump out the unburned gases. And you can smell it, too! People who do this put in a by-pass pipe in place of the cat and store the cat until the next summons they get from their state, usually anywhere from 2-5 years between smog tests depending on the age of the vehicle. It's a 5-minute job that can be done in their drive way and reduces the exhaust restriction posed by the cat.

  • Michael Gallagher I agree to a certain extent but I go back to the car SUV transition. People began to buy SUVs because they were supposedly safer because of their larger size when pitted against a regular car. As more SUVs crowded the road that safety advantage began to dwindle as it became more likely to hit an equally sized SUV. Now there is no safety advantage at all.
  • Probert The new EV9 is even bigger - a true monument of a personal transportation device. Not my thing, but credit where credit is due - impressive. The interior is bigger than my house and much nicer with 2 rows of lounge seats and 3rd for the plebes. 0-60 in 4.5 seconds, around 300miles of range, and an e-mpg of 80 (90 for the 2wd). What a world.
  • Ajla "Like showroom" is a lame description but he seems negotiable on the price and at least from what the two pictures show I've dealt with worse. But, I'm not interested in something with the Devil's configuration.
  • Tassos Jong-iL I really like the C-Class, it reminds me of some trips to Russia to visit Dear Friend VladdyPoo.
  • ToolGuy New Hampshire