By Bertel Schmitt
The Japanese government floated a highly interesting idea in Geneva. It could possibly revolutionize international car trade. Except for the United States. According to today’s Nikkei, the Japanese government has proposed that the World Forum for Harmonization of Vehicle Regulations, a working party of the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe, create a system for international whole vehicle type approval. The UNECE immediately began looking into the idea last Saturday, and as per the Nikkei, by Saturday evening, “a majority of the member countries had agreed to the proposal.” That was fast.
It did not need much work: An international mutual recognition framework already exists for automobile components. The USA and Canada are absent from this framework. Says the Nikkei: “But for vehicles themselves, automakers have to obtain for each model approval from their own government as well as the governments of the countries to which they export.” Well, not exactly.
In Europe exists something called European Community Whole Vehicle Type Approval (ECWVTA). A car that is legal in one country of the EU is automatically legal in the whole EU. The ECWVTA relies heavily on the UNECE framework and embodies most UNECE regulations into the Whole Vehicle Type Approval process. But, this applies only to Europe. The idea of a (more or less) worldwide Whole Vehicle Type Approval scheme had been floated at several times. It received the cold shoulder, especially from Japan. Until late, Japan, although a signatory to UNECE, had been dragging its heels. By the end of 2008, Japan had included only 35 of the 127 existing ECE regulations in its JASIC rules.
Recently, Japan became more activist. They made advances to include their EV standards into the ECE rules. When this happened, TTAC opined: “Hopefully, worldwide adoption of Japan’s standards for hybrid and electric vehicles will entice Japan to adopt more ECE rules. It would be a big step towards a world of internationally accepted safety and emission regulations, a world from which the U.S.A. decided to isolate itself.”
It is highly interesting that the initiative for an UNECE-wide whole car type approval comes from Japan at a time when its industry receives heavy flak from the U.S. As you can see from the immediate reaction, the other UNECE members had just been waiting for this. Adoption is basically guaranteed. This would allow manufacturers from other UNECE member countries instant access to Japan and South Korea, which currently have their own stringent type approval rules. It also would open the doors to the 52 member countries of UNECE.
Who will be left out (most likely to loud protestations)? The USA and Canada. The USA had deliberately chosen not to join UNECE. Canada, which is an adjunct of the U.S. auto industry, had no other choice and remained a non-member. Under Whole Vehicle Type Approval rules, a car is rigorously tested by a government agency before it is admitted to the road. The U.S. Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards (FMVSSs) embody no such checking.
NHTSA proudly proclaims on their website: “It is the responsibility of a manufacturer of vehicles and/or items of motor vehicle equipment to certify that each motor vehicle and/or equipment item is in full compliance with the minimum performance requirements of all applicable Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards (FMVSSs). This is a self-certification process as opposed to the type approval process which is used in some other countries such as Japan. The NHTSA does not issue approval tags, stickers or labels for vehicles or equipment items before or after the first sale. In order to provide certification, the manufacturer takes whatever actions it deems appropriate.” This policy is a disaster waiting to happen, and it is just as ambulance-chasing attorneys want it.
If UNECE goes to Whole Vehicle Type Approval Certification, manufacturers of member states will have zero time to other UNECE markets, whereas US manufacturers must go through a separate type approval process and manufacture their export cars according to the worldwide standard.
America becomes increasingly isolationist; the rest of the world closes ranks and becomes more open – towards the rest of the world.