Harmonisation Front and Centre: Researchers to Seek Regulatory Bridges
Fourth in a series by Daniel Stern, DVN General Editor
Regulatory harmonisation has long been a simultaneously deliberate goal and hurdle for the auto industry at large. In an ongoing series starting this past Spring, DVN has published a series of essays examining the intricacies under the deceptively simple-seeming surface of the matter.
In the beginning there was no regulatory harmonisation issue at all, because there were no regulations and the cars sold in each market were almost entirely unique to each market. Then vehicle import and export began and technical standards were adopted, different ones in different countries, but these differences were practically a non-issue. There were multiple approval or certification tests to pass, but for the most part vehicles could be made acceptable for the various markets by simply installing different headlamps and taillamps, different seat belts, different window glass, different bumpers, and other such easy bolt-ons. Until fairly recently, auto safety equipment evolved at such a relatively slow pace that regulatory harmonisation, despite its fervent advocates, was practically relegated more or less to a "that-would-be-nice" phenomenon.
That is no longer the case. The technology and technique of regulated vehicle systems and equipment are evolving at a rapid and accelerating speed, and vehicle safety equipment is increasingly integral to the vehicle as a whole rather than a collection of bolt-on attachments. Regulations that keep advancements off their market's cars not only hinder efforts to improve traffic safety, but also throw unprecedented costs on automakers and, down the line, on car buyers. A recent assessment of the matter done in Europe found that mutually exclusive regulations can inflate the price of a foreign vehicle by more than 25%. Moreover, impending international trade agreements are pressing the point. There is increasing consensus that the sleepy pace of regulatory evolution, adequate if sometimes annoying in the past, is now making problems and costs new degrees of urgency.