• Jun 26th 2009 at 4:57PM
  • 48
The Ford Transit Connect is a cool little van unlike anything else on the American market. In fact, I think it has the capability of becoming something of a cult car. But it's also a shining example of why the auto industry faces too much regulation.
Even though the Transit Connect is already sold in 55 countries around the world it had to undergo numerous modifications before it could be sold in the American market. And while it's not at all unusual to modifiy imported vehicles up to our standards, it's hard to see how some of these changes will help the health or safety of American citizens.

Some of these changes are so ridiculous and inconsequential that it's actually funny to see what they are. Funny, that is, until you realize all they're doing is driving up the price of the product.


John McElroy is host of the TV program "Autoline Detroit" and daily web video "Autoline Daily". Every week he brings his unique insights as an auto industry insider to Autoblog readers.

We've reached the saturation point when it comes to automotive regulations.
A good example is the center high mounted stop light (CHMSL). The Transit Connect was designed with the CHMSL built in to the top of the left-side, rear cargo door. But that wasn't acceptable to American regulators, no sir. They forced Ford to put a new CHMSL on top of the vehicle, a few inches away from where the original one was supposed to go. Whew, am I glad that didn't slip by the sharp eyes of the people who are out there to protect us!

The government also forced Ford to put reflectors on the sides of the front and rear bumpers. This, even though the Transit Connect has tail lamps that wrap around the side of the vehicle, and a "repeater" lamp on the front fenders. Believe me, this van is plenty visible even without those reflectors.

My favorite example has to do with the windshield wipers. No, they did not have to change the wipers. Ford had to change the path the wipers go through as they sweep back-and-forth across the windshield. Ford had to change the arms and the pivot points so that the sweep matched something that American regulators found acceptable.

And then we come to the engine. In almost every other country in the world the Transit Connect is powered by a diesel. But trying to get that diesel to meet US emissions standards would've added thousands of dollars of cost to the vehicle, yet it would've also added nearly ten more miles to the gallon to the Connect's fuel economy label, and cut CO2 emissions by 25%.
I fully understand the need to establish safety and emission regulations.

I fully understand the need to establish safety and emission regulations. I'm not against that. But I'm also pretty sure that if this vehicle had been brought in the same way it's sold in 55 other countries it would not have resulted in one more accident, one more fatality, or in one more health problem.

To me, these are perfect examples that we've reached the saturation point when it comes to automotive regulations. Isn't it time that we take the effort and money that goes into policing Picayune regulations like these, and put it into something that's more productive for society?

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    • 1 Second Ago
      • 6 Years Ago
      I've been banging the "auto standards treaty" drum for a long time now. I wondered when someone might catch on.
      • 6 Years Ago
      I am a huge Ford fan. I have owned 19 Fords, Mercurys, and Lincolns. Quit blaming regulations, Ford knew what they were when the designed the Transit, btw, we are getting one for local deliveries. They could have designed them in when making the original vehicle or through any of the multiple upgrades. This what happens when A does not know what B is doing. I bet under the current CEO this does not happen.

      Everybody wants to blame somebody else for their problems, man-up.
      • 6 Years Ago
      I help define standards in the opensource community for IBM. What is being expressed here is the challenge of writing smart standards. Standards exist for very good reasons. Rather than throw out the standard better means by which to aggregate the standards of intended global markets is what is needed.

      By defining a standard by which to communicate targeted markets requirements you make the engineers job of defining a common solution easier.

      So yes the goal is a sinlge implementation. But the solution is through better communication of requirements.
      • 6 Years Ago
      Not too far off the comments of good old "Maximum Bob" a few months ago. (http://wardsauto.com/ar/lutz_break_testing_080829/)

      Seriously, different standards have long kept a lot of interesting vehicles, widely available elsewhere in the world, out of the USA. It's interesting that in the 1950s, when the US auto market was many times smaller than it is today, there were far more auto makers selling cars in the US market than today. Why? Crazy, often nonsensical, regulations arrived at to satisfy some or another interest group.

      Truthfully, in 1965 I could see the logic. There were a lot of safety innovations that were being mandated in the US that made for genuinely safer and/or cleaner vehicles. By the 1980s though, the safety gap was all but closed and by the time emissions regulations were standardized in Europe starting with Euro 1 in 1992, essentially there was no meaningful difference in the standards.

      So, why do they persist? As others here have pointed out, there's a lot of bureaucratic "ownership" and self-justification issues in the way of unifying standards.

      And, don't think for a minute that this is just us (the USA) being unreasonable for not accepting EU standards. Think back to the 1980s for a moment. Remember when GM, Ford and Chrysler said that the only reason Japanese consumers weren't buying US built cars was because of the non-tariff barriers the Japanese had enacted (like unique safety and size requirements)? Yes...utter BS then and utter BS now on the part of the US. Who are we protecting and from who/what?
      • 6 Years Ago
      What is the complaint here? That the van must meet the standards? All of these, outside of the emissions/engine regulation are just simple safety regulations that exist here in the US. If the NTSB wants these standards, then Ford has to meet them. What is the alternative? Allow exceptions for every rule because a car is close to being in conformity with the rule? The rule is the rule.

      As far as the engine goes, the issue would seem to be that the rule itself is written incorrectly. And to that, the obvious answer would be, yes, the rules need to be altered to allow for high MPG diesels. But the idea that cars have reached some sort of regulation-saturation doesn't hold weight as the regulations you've spoke of have been apparent for years, and are simple to implement, especially if the vehicle had been designed for the US-market first, rather than the other way around.
        • 6 Years Ago
        I'm not sure. Moving the windshield wipers makes sense.. imagine driving from the passenger side of your current car. Half of what you were looking at would be covered in rain droplets. So that's a DUH.

        Same with the reflectors. So what if it has wrap around lights? America requires REFLECTORS. The moving the third brake light is a bit dumb, but the rest of this stuff makes sense.
        • 6 Years Ago
        It isn't "meeting regulations", it's nit-picking. Do you think the original windshield wiper path didn't clear the windshield enough? Do you think the original wrap around tailights weren't enough to make the truck visible? Don't you think they could make an exception for the Deisel engine? A 35mpg cargo hauler like that is unheard of, and all the big businesses like UPS and other companies that drive millions of miles a year would be getting 2 to 3 times more MPG. What will they find next? The fuel cap is too high, it might be unsafe for short people to put gas in their car.
      • 6 Years Ago
      HEL-LO_o. Chicken tax. He didn't even mention the chicken tax! They are screwing around putting in and removing seats because of the chicken tax. Sure, it protects US pickup makers from cheap, small pickups from Thailand, and I guess if that is every tax payer, maybe you don't want to mess with it, but it kind of makes moot any arguments about driving up the cost of an imported truck.

      It is easy to make fun of regulations. A regulation by its very nature has to draw a line somewhere, and it is easy to say the line should have been here or there. Then someone would make fun of that.

      If you want cheaper imported trucks, you have to get rid of the chicken tax.
      • 6 Years Ago
      I don't know about GM, but certainly Chrysler wouldn't be in bankruptcy today if they had been able to sell the high mileage diesel versions of thier vehicles here in the USA that they sell in Europe.

      Imagine how well a 36+ mpg diesel version of the 300C or Wrangler, or Grand Cherokee would have sold during the gas price spike last year.

      Chrysler build alls of these here in the US, and ships them to Europe, Asia, S. America, but we can't have them here in the US.

        • 6 Years Ago
        Excellent point, sir. If you could get a turbo diesel Wrangler here in the USA, for instance, I'm sure lots of people would jump all over it. (To be fair, Jeep does sell the Grand Cherokee in North America with Daimler's BlueTec TD V6, but they haven't done much of a job at marketing that fact.) And you've got to think that some of Europe's volume brands (SEAT, Skoda, Peugeot, Renault, the soon-to-be-independent Opel, etc.) have been watching the recent rise of Kia and Hyundai on this continent with a certain amount of envy.

        Just a pipe dream, perhaps, but if the Euro-NCAP and US-DOT standards (as well as emissions limits) were merged or at least compromised, imagine how much potential business that would open up for automakers on both sides of the Atlantic. Let the Chinese take over the Asian markets, because they're bound to do it pretty soon anyway, and we'll team up with Europe to control our own hemisphere's worth of auto sales. (Heck, lots of DOT-illegal European makes are already sold in Mexico these days - isn't this kind of the reason why things like NAFTA are supposed to exist? You know, freeing up trade barriers and such?)

        Not that the Chinese wouldn't eventually make inroads here anyway, but I think it only makes sense to protect and invest in what's left of our own manufacturing base while it's still worth saving. Since Fiat's coming back soon to help revive Chrysler, and since Ford appears to be on another "Euro-swing" in regards to new product, now is the time to allow both companies a little more breathing room by way of common sense.
      • 6 Years Ago
      We can`t California to step inline with the rest of the country when it comes to auto specifications.
      How do we expect the US Government to step in line with the world?
      • 6 Years Ago
      They'll never loosen up regulations because if they do, they fear they're existance will be questioned.

      It's like the other public agencies that come in under budget but blow the difference because they know that next year's budget is based on this year's spending.

      It's government at it's finest, creating more work for other people (private industry in this case) just to justify their own existance, it'll never stop either until politicians/public servants are actually held accountable for their actions.
      • 6 Years Ago
      Why does Mercedes, BMW and Audi have 2.5 mph bumpers and the standard Focus(Mk1) have 5mph bumpers??? Do they have to concede???

      Great story.... To many rules and regs... Like Rhode Island not allowing to sell Toothbrush and tooth paste at the same time on Sunday....
      • 6 Years Ago
      I happen to like the Transit Connect, and have considered buying one, especially since it has such a low load floor, which would be perfect for carrying a wheelchair (which I will soon have to use) and/or a mobility scooter (which I already have).

      BUT ...

      * It's about $3,000-5,000 more expensive than it ought to be, and probably for the reasons John mentions. The fact that it's made in Turkey and shipped here doesn't help either.

      * You can't get windows all-around on the wagon model. Can you say "blind spot big enough to hide a semi?"

      * It's not available as a seven-seater, which would make it the ideal competitor for the Mazda5 and Kia Rondo, among other smaller vehicles.

      Memo to Ford: Build it here, drop the price a few thou, and make the other minor changes I mentioned above. It's a great product for business customers, but you really need to look at the non-commercial market, too. And those of us with disabilities.
      • 6 Years Ago
      Quit your whining. I don't hear Ford (or any other automaker) complaining. Since all automakers have to comply, this puts no one at a competitive disadvantage.

      Sure, it would be nice if various countries could agree on uniform regulations, but that's basically a pipe dream.
        • 6 Years Ago
        No, you quit your whining. Automakers having to remake cars to different markets affects the most important category of people: customers. We have to pay more because of these useless exercises. You are advocating a variant of broken window economics, and no one here wins.
        • 6 Years Ago
        blurry, what are you talking about? Automakers are constantly complaining about these types of regulations.
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