September 13th, 2008 at 10:47am
There isn’t a whole lot of support in Washington D.C. to help the domestic auto industry these days. But there is one small concession the Feds could dole out to Detroit that would save it a lot of time and money in selling fuel efficient vehicles in the United States.
Thanks to heavy fuel taxes in Europe, automakers sell a line-up of vehicles there which get great fuel economy. That’s why GM and Ford want to start building a number of their European models in the United States. But it’s going to take them a number of years to do this, with most of that time eaten up by modifying those cars to meet U.S. emissions and safety regulations.
Why make them modify those cars? Why not let them build exactly what they sell in Europe over here?
This is the perfect time for Congress to give the Detroit Three a temporary freeze on safety and emissions regulations. As long as a car meets the Euro 5 emission regulations and European NCAP safety standards, let them build those vehicles in the U.S. with no other modifications.
I say we give the automakers a temporary reprieve, a 5-year window, to make those Euro-spec vehicles here. After that, they would have to meet whatever U.S. standards are on the books.
This one-time freeze would not imperil the lives or livelihood of any American citizen. Since European regulations are quite stringent, it’s not as if we’d see traffic fatalities shoot up, or see air quality degrade to any measurable degree.
And there’s a political precedent for this. Back in 1980, when the domestic auto industry was actually in more trouble than it is today, President Jimmy Carter froze certain emission and safety standards to help the car companies as they struggled to turn around. It was a temporary freeze that was lifted after a couple of years.
In fact, I’m told that Mexico already does this sort of thing. Any car that meets U.S. or European standards can automatically be sold in Mexico.
To get the unions to buy in to this we should not allow cars that meet European specs to be imported; they would have to be built in North America to qualify for the waiver.
This would be a very simple way for Congress to help the auto industry, with no bailouts or write-offs involved. It wouldn’t cost the tax payer one red cent, but it would help the American automakers put fuel efficient cars in their showrooms a whole lot faster.