U.S. & Euro Automakers Lobby Free-Trade Pact Negotiators to Harmonize Safety Regs

TTAC Staff
by TTAC Staff

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.

Join the conversation
4 of 32 comments
  • Lou_BC Lou_BC on Dec 24, 2013

    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?

    • Big Al from Oz Big Al from Oz on Dec 24, 2013

      @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.

  • Lou_BC Lou_BC on Dec 24, 2013

    @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.

    • Big Al from Oz Big Al from Oz on Dec 24, 2013

      @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.

  • Darren Mertz In 2000, after reading the glowing reviews from c/d in 1998, I decided that was the car for me (yep, it took me 2 years to make up my mind). I found a 1999 with 24k on the clock at a local Volvo dealership. I think the salesman was more impressed with it than I was. It was everything I had hoped for. Comfortable, stylish, roomy, refined, efficient, flexible, ... I can't think of more superlatives right now but there are likely more. I had that car until just last year at this time. A red light runner t-boned me and my partner who was in the passenger seat. The cops estimate the other driver hit us at about 50 mph - on a city street. My partner wasn't visibly injured (when the seat air bag went off it shoved him out of the way of the intruding car) but his hip was rather tweaked. My car, though, was gone. I cried like a baby when they towed it away. I ruminated for months trying to decide how to replace it. Luckily, we had my 1998 SAAB 9000 as a spare car to use. I decided early on that there would be no new car considered. I loathe touch screens. I'm also not a fan of climate control. Months went by. I decided to keep looking for another B5 Passat. As the author wrote, the B5.5 just looked 'over done'. October this past year I found my Cinderella slipper - an early 2001. Same silver color. Same black leather interior. Same 1.8T engine. Same 5 speed manual transmission. I was happier than a pig in sh!t. But a little sad also. I had replaced my baby. But life goes on. I drive it every day to work which takes me over some rather twisty freeway ramps. I love the light snarel as I charge up some steep hills on my way home. So, I'm a dyed-in-the-wool Passat guy.
  • Paul Mezhir As awful as the styling was on these cars, they were beautifully assembled and extremely well finished for the day. The doors closed solidly, the ride was extremely quiet and the absence of squeaks and rattles was commendable. As for styling? Everything's beautiful in it's own way.....except for the VI coupe....it's proportions were just odd: the passenger compartment and wheelbase seemed to be way too short, especially compared to the VI sedan. Even the short-lived Town Coupe had much better proportions. None of the fox-body Lincolns could compare to the beautiful proportions of the Mark V.....it was the epitome of long, low, sleek and elegant. The proportions were just about perfect from every angle.
  • ToolGuy Silhouetting yourself on a ridge like that is an excellent way to get yourself shot ( Skylining)."Don't you know there's a special military operation on?"
  • ToolGuy When Farley says “like the Millennium Falcon” he means "fully updatable" and "constantly improving" -- it's right there in the Car and Driver article (and makes perfect sense).
  • Master Baiter New slogan in the age of Ford EVs:FoundOnRoadDischarged