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Thursday, May 26, 2005

The Cross Lander: How I Learned to Love Regulations

Autoblog had a news item recently about the travails of Cross Lander. Cross Lander USA is a company that wants to import Romanian built 4x4 military trucks (think Communist Bloc Land Rover Defender) and sell them cheap to off-roaders in the US. Unfortunately, there is the little issue of NHTSA safety regulations--the thing has to have airbags, because it turned out to be lighter than originally intended. From the Washington Post article:
The hitch came when the engines Cross Lander was able to purchase for its U.S.-bound-vehicles turned out to be lighter than expected, dropping the 244X into a weight class that requires air bags. (The Hummer H1, for example, does not have to have air bags because it weighs more than 5,500 pounds unloaded. Two models of smaller Hummers must.) Cross Lander said it didn't have enough cash to pay for the $2 million to $3 million design and installation of air bags. So it asked regulators to let it sell the vehicle in the United States without air bags so it can raise enough money to pay for them.
Now, would you trust your life to a company that can't accurately estimate how much one of its designs will weigh?

On one hand, I do feel a little twitch of sympathy for the off-road types who couldn't wait to get their hands on a real, hardcore military truck for $20,000. On the other hand, as an engineer working for the American auto industry, I would prefer to see the barriers to entering our market as high as possible for newcomers (Bricklin!). There is just too much product out there, and the new kids may just steal my lunch.

Old school protectionism won't fly anymore. Unless you are Pat Buchanan or John Edwards. Both the Democrats and Republicans are on a free trade rampage, starting with Clinton's approval of NAFTA. So it doesn't seem likely that the Federal Government will defend the remaining American automakers from the likes of Chery--they already failed to do so in the case if Daewoo, Kia, and Hyundai.

However, we do have the CAFE rule, the CARB, the EPA, and the NHTSA. Some of my fellow engineer readers may be shocked, but I say this is a very good thing. The regulations and requirements that are imposed by these agencies, such as crash safety requirements, fuel economy, and emissions regulations are not easy to meet without huge investments in engineering.

Yes, the regs do add much cost to vehicles, and complexity. But they do drive high technology. Our cars are dramatically cleaner, more powerful, and safer than cars just 15 years ago. And, thanks to the engineering and cost barriers that these regulations erect, the regs actually protect American jobs.

1 comment:

DSmith said...

Protect American jobs? Yeah, right. The US auto industry has certainly improved its market share since 1967, so *that* plan must've worked.