Why Certain Foreign Cars Are Only Available Overseas
If you like to travel internationally, then you have most likely encountered some interesting foreign cars in other countries. In Mexico there’s the Chevy Tornado (pictured above) and the Nissan Micra. In the UK there’s the Ford Escort Cosworth, the Holden HSV Maloo Ute in Australia and the Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution in Japan. While Americans enjoy unbridled freedom in nearly every area of consumerism, why are we unable to get our hands on these foreign cars? In this article we explore the reasons why some automobile manufacturers produce cars internationally, yet have some models like Europe’s Renault, Korea’s SsangYong and the Czech Republic’s Skoda that are not allowed to be sold in the US.
Regulations Determine Who Gets in and Who Doesn’t Make the Cut
Just because a foreign car model is a huge hit across Europe, Latin America and Asia, doesn’t mean you will be seeing it cruising the LA strip. The United States automotive industry is governed by some of the most stringent regulations on the planet, monitoring both safety and environmental emissions standards. As a result of those regulatory checks and balances, many automakers don’t have the capital to enter the US market, nor would it necessarily be cost effective for them to even try. In short, they don’t even bother, instead focusing their attention more on European, Latin and Asian markets. Many of the vehicles produced overseas would most likely be met with great enthusiasm by American consumers – the smaller size options, the higher fuel efficiency – but bringing one or two models over would, according to AutoTrader.com, “Not be enough to justify the cost of jumping through our many regulatory hoops — and establishing a large network of dealerships throughout the entire country.”
Cultural Differences and the Lay of the Land
Americans like what they like when it comes to their cars, and that often means the bigger the car, the better. US car buyers have different preferences than car buyers in other countries, and even within the US, preferences vary widely depending on which state and city you’re in. In comparison to many European, Asian and Latin American cities, the US’ highway and urban roadway infrastructure can accommodate larger vehicles, which may be a contributing factor to the higher percentage of trucks and suv’s. Many foreign cities such as Mexico City, Dublin, Paris, Rome, Tokyo, Manila, Buenos Aires and Santiago have narrower streets and alleys that would make maneuvering a Chevy Suburban or a Ford F-350 a lot more complex.
The Cost of Fuel
The price of gasoline differs greatly depending on where you are in the world. In September of 2018, the average price of a gallon of gasoline in the US was $2.91. In the UK, it was $1.68 per liter (roughly $6.35 per gallon). With less expensive fuel, Americans often opt for vehicles with larger engines and more power. Economically, this does not make much sense, because the larger the engine, the more fuel it consumes. But marketing can be one heck of a motivator, and longstanding institutions such as Ford, Chevy and Dodge, with their super-sized trucks still maintain a foothold in the romanticism of the American psyche.
Traveling abroad you will notice a much higher percentage of diesel engines in smaller vehicles than in the US. Over here we associate diesel engines with pickups, busses, heavy equipment and 18-wheelers. In Europe you will find a wide variety of small diesel passenger vehicles. Why is that the case? Again, it comes down to regulations. Many of the popular foreign diesel options do not meet the stringent US emission standards, and to retrofit a vehicle so that it does meet those standards would prove to be costly to both automakers and consumers. There is a myth out there that we Americans don’t like diesels, unless they come in the form of a giant Cummings engine. We definitely like our fast cars, and smaller diesel engines don’t always have as much acceleration power as we have become accustomed to. We’ve got places to be and things to do, and we don’t have time to wait for the slow roll of a 70-80 horsepower diesel engine found in most of the smaller foreign models.
Differences in Safety Standards
Safety, bumper, and theft prevention standards are important aspects of the American automotive industry and US carmakers must follow them to the letter. For the rest of the world, carmakers look to the international safety standards laid out by the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (ECE), which developed the standards that most countries around the planet adhere to, with the exception of the United States and Canada. The US follows its own distinct safety standards – the Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards (FMVSS), and in many ways, the ECE and the FMVSS do not overlap in their criteria. Canada follows its own regulatory parameters as well, which are more in alignment with the FMVSS – the Canadian Motor Vehicle Safety Standards (CMVSS).
The Cost of Modification
If a car manufacturer sees a viable market in the United States, they will need to strictly adhere to the governing FMVSS regulations, which generally means that a carmaker will need to produce three distinct versions of the same vehicle:
- ECE left-hand drive
- ECE right-hand drive
- US/Canada FMVSS/CMVSS
Such an undertaking is expensive, which as you can imagine, limits the amount with which a company can expand into the US automotive market.
The Bottom Line
With the stringent safety and emission standards set for the US automotive market, along with consumer differences in style, size and engine preferences, many foreign cars will never find their way to our roads. The only way to impact that reality is to work with politicians to either lower our current FMVSS safety standards or lower the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA’s) federal emissions standards, which would loosen the regulations that keep many good foreign cars from entering the country. Until then, we are not without variety when exploring options for our next vehicles.
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In a wide range of industrial sectors, SCL is committed to being the number one logistics and solutions provider for the products that protect and optimize the machines that keep our country moving. We pride ourselves on remaining at the forefront of industry trends and technological innovations, and as the market continues to evolve, we are committed to providing extensive product and industry knowledge and total performance satisfaction for our customers. For information on how we can assist your fleet in choosing the optimal products at a competitive price, contact an SCL consultant today.