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Could the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership Make Importing Pickups Easier?

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One of the hotly debated topics right now is the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership. This trade deal could pave the way to import Europe’s metric-ton trucks (Toyota Hilux, Global Ford Ranger) and other vehicles into the U.S., and export U.S. built vehicles by eliminating the 25 percent tariff on such products known as the Chicken Tax. However, a little talked about, yet sizable obstacle remains – crash and safety standards. Will these standards ever align globally? A recent study took a closer look at U.S. and European standards with surprising results.

What is the Chicken Tax?

The United States and the European Union have different safety and crash equipment, but the primary obstacle to the importation of trucks is what’s known as the “Chicken Tax.” This is a 25 percent tariff imposed on all light-duty trucks imported into the U.S. The tax was levied beginning in 1963, when U.S. President Lyndon B. Johnson signed it as a response to tariffs placed by France and West Germany on the importation of chickens from the United States.
Back in 1963 — when the only small trucks built came from Japan, and were only seen on the West Coast in tiny numbers — the tax applied not only to European-built trucks, but to potato starch, dextrin and brandy. Eventually, the tax on those items was lifted, but the import tariff on pickup trucks is still in full effect.
Manufacturers have always found ways around paying the stiff import tariff. In the 1970s, Japanese truck manufacturers shipped their trucks as cab and chassis, and the pickup beds were installed at the port in the United States, resulting in a 21% reduction in the tariff. The Subaru Brat, which had a unibody, and therefore couldn’t be shipped as a cab and chassis, had two jumpseats installed in the bed to meet classifications as a passenger vehicle. The current Ford Transit Connect is shipped to the United States from Turkey as a passenger vehicle, and then has its windows replaced with metal panels, and its seats stripped and shredded in a warehouse at the port in Baltimore. The process adds hundreds of dollars to the cost of a Transit Connect, but saves thousands in import taxes.
The Chicken Tax is one of several key items currently being negotiated during the trade talks. Removing this obstacle could potentially open the door for the import of trucks into the U.S., albeit with modifications to meet U.S. crash and safety standards.

nissan-np300-navara-st-x-2015 (5)Why Do Crash and Safety Standards Differences Matter to Consumers?

For the casual truck fan, they may see trucks like the Global Ford Ranger or Toyota Hilux as simply a different shape and size, but there are many more differences. For example, the mirrors, headlights, thickness of the windshield glass, windshield wipers and a host of other items are different to meet the safety standards of the European Union and elsewhere.

These differences in standards affect a whole host of issues for consumers and automakers. For example, automakers have to design vehicles to not only meet the different standards, but also to perform better at certain European crash tests versus U.S. crash tests, such as the IIHS small overlap frontal crash test which readers may recall caused additional cab testing for Ford.

Also, consumers are hampered by this when importing vehicles from outside the U.S. If the vehicle isn’t 30 years old (when limitations expire), they are denied permanent registration due to rather arcane things like the millimeter thickness of the windshield. Consumers can spend the money to alter their vehicles to the U.S. standards, yet even then, the vehicle may not pass. Land Rover Defender owners in the United States have had their vehicles crushed by the U.S. Customs and Treasury Department, as you can see in this video:

What are the Differences?

While there are a whole range of differences, the Comparing Motor-Vehicle Crash Risk of EU and US Vehicles study, conducted by the University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute (UMTRI), the SAFER– Vehicle and Traffic Safety Centre at Chalmers, Sweden, the Centre Europeen d’Etudes de Securite et d’Analyse des Risques (CEESAR) in France as well as the Transport Research Laboratory (TRL) in the United Kingdom looked at crash avoidance and associated vehicle safety regulations. These items consisted of a variety of items including drivers-side mirrors and headlamps.

Besides just looking at crash avoidance, researchers also looked at the risk of injury in the event of a crash. Analyzing these factors allowed them to have a better view on how regulatory requirements varied.

“For the crashworthiness analysis, we represented risk (of injury in a particular crash) using a statistical model that could be applied to different environments,” according to the study. “For crash avoidance, we selected a crash subpopulation and control crashes to adjust for any exposure differences between the EU and US. For both crashworthiness and crash avoidance, the comparison of injury risk given a particular set of crash characteristics, respectively the comparison of crash involvement, was then argued to be driven by differences between the vehicles themselves.”

EU Crash Differences

When looking at the data, the study found vehicles meeting EU standards offered a reduced risk of serious injury in the event of a frontal/side crash and they also have a reduced risk when changing lanes due to driver-side mirrors. In the EU, non-planar mirrors are allowed on both sides of the vehicles, while the U.S. specifies a planar mirror on the driver side.

unnamedA planar mirror is a flat reflective surface and the resulting image is said to be a virtual image. A non-planar mirror gives a wider range of view, yet the image in minimized. Typically, non-planar mirror have the warning “Objects In the Mirror Are Closer Than They Appear.”

A 2000 National Highway and Traffic Safety Administration study of non-planar versus planar use found driver’s had a harder time judging distances and approach speeds through various experiments with non-planar mirrors. Yet, non-planar mirrors allowed drivers to better detect adjacent vehicles due to wider fields of view. The NHTSA study concluded the “relative benefits of non-planar mirrors should be greater than the negative effects.”

Yet, NTHSA Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard 111 requires driver’s-side mirrors to provide “unity magnification” like the undistorted 1:1 reflection found in a flat, planar mirror. The passenger side can be non-planar. This is the reason why many vehicles have different types of mirrors with the passenger side having the warning etched into it as described above.

U.S. Crash Differences

In the U.S., vehicles performed better for rollover types of crashes than EU vehicles. The study looked at both seat belted and unbelted occupants including those occupants who were ejected. Overall, the U.S. vehicles offered lower injury risk versus the EU models.

unnamed (4)Another difference was the detection of pedestrians. Using the same time of day analysis, the study found U.S. vehicles were at a 30 percent lower risk of causing injury to pedestrians. This has to do with the way the headlamps better illuminate pedestrians versus EU headlamps. It is also reflective of different regulatory standards for headlamps.

Overall, this first of its kind study, may pave the way for a standard set of safety regulations which would not only save automakers considerable expense, but it would also make the vehicles safer for all drivers.

Tim Esterdahl

Tim Esterdahl

Hailing from Western Nebraska, Tim has covered the automotive industry for many years. He has written for a variety of outlets including Truck Trend, Pickuptrucks.com, Tundraheadquarters.com and others. He is a married father of three and an avid golfer.