I want that cool overseas EV! Here's why not
A variety of factors mean that many foreign models are not available stateside
(A native of England, Matthew Diebel is a veteran journalist who has worked at NBC News, Time, USA Today and News Corp., among other organizations. Having spent his childhood next to one of the world's fastest bodies of water, he is particularly interested in tidal energy.)
It’s maybe happened to you. You make a trip to Europe or Asia and some amazing vehicles catch your eye.
Perhaps it’s the gotta-have-in-my-driveway Wuling Hong Guang Mini EV, which, despite its mouthful of a name, just happens to be the world’s second best-selling electric car (after the Tesla Model 3).
Or maybe the much more simply named Honda e (HMC), another adorable EV which is on sale only in Japan and Europe. And then there’s the Volkswagen (VWAGY) ID.3 hatchback, which has become one of the top-10 sellers in the world.
And recently, reports car enthusiasts got to take a look at the ID Buzz from Volkswagen, an EV van that much resembles the mid-century microbuses loved by the Woodstock generation. In Europe, reports Inside Climate News, it’ll be available later this year while potential American customers will have to wait until at least 2024 — and then it will be a larger version supposedly customized for the U.S. market. (Maybe — cruelty alert — because we are not, to use a German-sounding word, as svelte as the average European?)
What is going on here? Why are potential American customers salivating on overseas shores and frustrated at home?
Well, it’s not a new phenomenon. In fossil fuel’s heyday, a foreign foray would turn up a very different array of vehicles not available in the U.S. For instance, Ford’s (F) England-made Anglia compact, a ‘60s-era star of “Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets,” was not on sale in America. Nor were many other cars from the European branches of U.S. car giants, such as the Rekord from Opel, a German brand once owned by General Motors (GM).
Why? First, with American safety and emissions standards having been generally tougher than the rest of the world, carmakers had to make a decision as to whether it was worthwhile making changes to meet U.S. regulations. (Of course, with EVs, the emissions factor will no longer be a barrier.)
Second, European and Asian cars are generally smaller than their American cousins. This is the result of higher gas taxes, some of them imposed with a view to having less-polluting cars on the roads. In addition, roads and streets in Europe and Asia are often narrower, making it trickier to, for example, drive a Cadillac down a country lane.
And then there’s demand. With EVs amounting to only 4% of U.S. new car sales in 2021, while the numbers are 17% in Europe and 13% in China, the American market is quite narrow at present.
When the numbers improve, expect to see more overseas gems riding on U.S. highways.