Why don't we have these cool European cars here?

On TV, when they show foreign countries, often you’ll see some really cool looking cars, trucks and buses. Like in a program dealing with France, I saw these cool heavy hauling trucks with space age looking cabs that had windows all around including in the lower parts of the doors and some were even set in front of the front wheels.

I spotted some real interesting looking small cars in shows about England, like a small thing that you got into by opening the entire front. It held maybe two people.

Then in Germany, I think, the cops have these enclosed motorcycles that are fast and when they go to stop, automatically extend landing struts! They also have a big car there that looks similar to your average big American car, but is quite different on the interior design and looks better, to me anyhow, on the exterior.

So, how come these cool vehicles are not available in America? I noticed a whole bunch of American and Japanese cars tootling around in the same shows, so these places got our stuff but we don’t have theirs.

The French were experimenting with a nifty little public transport car that was electric, you entered from the back, looked like something from Toys R Us and, outfitted with a regular small motor, would have made a great runabout over here.

You don’t see those small cars here with those motorcycle type engines that you spot buzzing around in Europe. I think most seem in Italy, though quite a few show up in England. When I was a kid, able to drive, some of these small imports were available and other kids bought them. Like a friend of mine had a Pugo ‘wagon’ that was tiny and came with an engine crank if the starter should fail. He loved it! The early VW bug was a great hit with young drivers. There were even a couple of aging Renaults lovingly driven around town by kids.

These things made great first cars because there was not much to the engines plus, they weren’t geared to blast off from the starting line. I recall one foreign car the size of a VW bug that had pop out turn signals!! They would lay flat against the car body until needed, then pop out, blinking when the turn indicator was hit.

Well, to me it seems all American and Japanese cars look the same – boring. I’d love to have some of these other cars and trucks available over here.

So, why don’t we?

Several reasons come to mind:

  1. No one would buy them. Look how difficult it is to sell any small car in the US market these days, smaller cars are not going to do any better. The US buying public isn’t that concerned with gas milage, ease of parking, or cuteness (VW Bugs not withstannding).

  2. Safety regulations. None of these cars would pass US safety regs, which are quite different from European or Japanese standards.

  3. Cost. It costs a significant amount of money to introduce new models to the US market, for safety testing, marketing, dealer networks. Since these would likely sell in small numbers here, it’s not worth it.

Telemark pretty much hit the nail on the head on all three points.

To expand on point one:

Gas in Europe costs about 3x what we pay for it in the US, so gas mileage concerns get very high priorities. Diesel models are extremely popular there. Also, certain styles are more popular in Europe than here. For example, hatchbacks are still very popular there; however, in the US a hatchback is considered to be a low-end model (remember Ford’s failure to market the Scorpio here in the early 90’s?).

Regarding Japan and the UK, some models are designed solely for the home market and therefore are available only in right hand drive (such as the Nissan Skyline GTR, although the next generation of that car might be coming here).

One more thing, Twentyeight, you mentioned a car you entered through the front. In the late 50’s, BMW marketed a car here called the Isetta, which fit that description. It did not sell well. You can see one here.

frogstein, maybe. I have friends in England & they said the cost of gas is about the same as it is here in the US, $1.60
gallon US dollars. Forget what the news says.

If you goto http://www.carzone.ie you can see all the groovy european cars we have here in Ireland, complete with pictures. Then look how bloody expensive they are (get the old currancy convertor out) and remeber that a litre of unleaded here is about IR64p(US75C) and think yourselves damn lucky.

Handy: I think maybe they’re confused. This morning I saw petrol at 80p a litre. Therefore

One litre = $1.16 (at £1 = $1.45)

Taking into account the difference between US and Imperial/metric stuff, I think it’s pretty close to 4 litres per US gallon, though I could be a little way out…

One US gallon = $4.64

That is not cheap and certainly plays a significant part in the choice of car in europe and the UK.

Here’s the Department of Energy’s listing of worldwide gas prices: http://www.eia.doe.gov/emeu/international/gas1.html

For this week (2/5), the prices range from a low of $3.58/gal in Belgium to a high of $4.29/gal in the UK. The US is $1.63/gal. That’s quite a difference.

I would dispute the the quote that US cars have more stringent safety standards than European ones.

It is true that some US states have tighter emission standards than some European ones, but that would not include Germany and anyway most manufacturers design cars to sell around the world to reduce assembly costs so that virtually all new designs would pass all US standards.

It does not make any sense to an international company to have cars with big engineering differances going down multiple production lines to sell into differant markets when economies of scale are involved.

I have seen occasions where companies I worked for had to make things to a much higher standard for export to the US because of import regulations which demanded a higher standard than goods manufactured in the home state but I’d doubt that this applies to cars as it would soon be jumped upon in the G7 conferances as an unfair restriction on trade.
The US had a major issue with Japan over this accusing it of exactly the same thing.

A local BMW dealer (Peter Pan - yes, really, that’s the dealer’s name) used to have one on his back lot. It needed a lot of restoration work.

There were a number of post WWII “microcars” manufactured, many of them quite interesting and/or absurd:


The Heinkel opened from the front, too. The smallest marketed as a “car”, IIRC, was something that weighed in the vicinity of 100 lbs, and had a handle in the front to put on a tow rope, or drag it up stairs and so on, so you could take it with you into places you couldn’t actually drive it - keep your car in your office, and you don’t have to find a parking spot.

One built in the US that had an interesting history was the Crosley. It didn’t sell either.

Nobody has mentioned one of the most important reasons:


In the 1980’s, a California man went out and bought a cure for his mid-life crisis: a Porsche 911 Turbo. The first thing he did was take it out for a romp, swapped ends with it at high speed, and died.

The man’s wife, being American and all, naturally blamed Porsche instead of her husband’s incompetence. Porsche’s legal team in Germany laughed the suit off and did not do much to defend themselves.

In the trial, the plaintiffs showed that the enormous turbo of that particular model is designed to engage when the vehicle is downshifted. This provides an enormous, and for the painfully uninformed, unexpected burst of power. Furthermore, the front-to-rear weight ratio of the 911 is exactly the opposite of a normal car because the engine is in the rear. Combine those two factors with a complete idiot who decides to downshift going into a turn at 70 mph, and death is a likely result. It apparently didn’t matter that responsible people who buy $60,000 sports cars usually bone up on this sort of thing before they go breaking the law in the car.

Porsche lost their ass in that case, and all German automakers began to pull their highest-performance models from the American market. The Japanese followed suit.

Beginning in the late 1980s, BMW has had a policy of having every model they sell in the U.S. pored over by a team of American litigation lawyers. As a result, many models are not shipped, particularly if they are “too fast.” Today, the fastest BMW production car ever made–a hopped-up model of the Z3–is and always will be unavailable in the U.S. Similarly, Nissan has avoided shipping the Skyline GTR here for almost ten years. Their plans to do so now go hand in hand with a suspicious sounding redesign that I believe will result in a less high-performance vehicle.

The bottom line is that as long as America continues to reward those who refuse to take responsibility for their own actions, certain models will never make it to our shores.

The lyrical variant:
Americans want chrome, Europeans want transportation.

One of the cars I wish the US had is the Audi A3/S3. Unfortunately it is a hatchback and has no sales potential, too bad because it would kick a VW GTI’s but!

Audi A3
Audi S3

Ford are starting to make all their models the same the world over so what we have you’ll have. Americans are able to get their hands on the Focus right now aren’t they?

First thing, the euro’s pay a LOT more for gasoline, even though they are closer to the middle east. I don’t know who told you that. Taxes. That’s another thread, though.

The european mentality is a bit different when it comes to cars and motoring in general. How the european union will affect licensing overall I don’t know, but what I do know is that currently in germany, to obtain a drivers license each prospective driver has to attend a Fahrschule, or driving school. This costs anywhere from $2000 on up, depending on how much instruction is needed by that individual. 20 to 30 hours of instruction isn’t uncommon.

They spend time driving in town, on the autobahn, night driving, etc etc.

Vehicle inspections are required yearly, and are very stringent. Older vehicles are rarely seen since they weren’t ever equipped with a katalyzer, or catalytic convertor. No, you can’t just install an aftermarket one.

You can continue to drive your older non-Kat car, but it’s about $300 a year in extra taxes if you do. Certain high ozone days will preclude you from operating your vehicle as well, under penalty of high fines.

Generally, the safety of both the drivers and vehicles there is higher than in the U.S., in my opinion. Road taxes are high, vehicles are maintained to high safety standards, and drivers themselves are at a much higher proficiency. Drunken driving is fairly rare, even running out of gas on the autobahn can result in a fine.

Next, the import duties for european vehicles is extremely high. I wanted to bring my german spec BMW back to the U.S. after a stint overseas in the Army. After the EPA, OSHA, and the Customs folks all had their say, it would have cost around $8000 to “convert” it to U.S. “Safety” specs. You know, things like “Objects in mirror are closer than they appear”

Granted, there are some very cool euro cars… almost cartoonish (The French excel in this area, I think)

You bring up a pet peeve of mine, namely the unpopularity of the hatchback configuration in the US, one of the most practical designs ever made, IMO. It turns up on lower-end vehicles and sports cars, but you just cannot get it on anything upscale. Saab is about the only maker still importing upmarket hatchbacks. I had a '94 900S, but I just don’t like what they’ve done with their newer models.

BMW makes the 323 in a hatch for Europe (323ti), but doesn’t import it. I actually considered taking European delivery of one of these, since it’s otherwise a 323, and should be generally serviceable in the US.

What really kills me is that the outline of your standard smaller sedan is damn near like a hatchback anyway - the rear window slopes down to a tiny little trunk lid. Why they can’t just modify the rear end a bit to lift up the window along with the trunk lid so that you don’t have to practically crawl into the trunk to get at stuff in the back of it, I don’t know.

I agree, the hatchback is a great way to add a lot of versatility to an otherwise small car. I am an unusual American driver by the fact that I like small cars, in fact I am seriously considering getting the new BMW Mini Cooper S when it makes its way to the States. Tiny car, but a whole lot of fun!

      • I don’t remember what it’s called, but the local newspaper [St Louis/USA] did a story on a lady that drove something that sounds a lot like this some years back. It was about as long as a regular car, got about 70 mpg, and cost ~$14,000. It had room for two (small-to-average-sized) people, but not much else. The article noted that it could be driven with the top open if you wanted, because the entry canopy slid backwards on rails instead of flipping up. All considered, it did look really cool, but it was priced pretty high considering its meager interior space - kind of a fourteen-grand motorcycle with a roof.
        ~ A lot of that oddball stuff is/was made specifically to exploit motoring and fuel laws local to over there. - MC

It’s not for a lack of trying. Remember the early 70’s Capri? German Ford. The late 70’s Fiesta? German Ford. Mid-80’s Merkur XR4Ti & Scorpio? German Fords. Current Catera? German Opel. Current Saturn L series? German Opel. Current Ford Fiesta? Japanese Mazda 121. Even the Germans do it to themselves: current Passat? Audi A4.

Of course, on most of the above cars, some “Americanizing” is necessary. Bumpers, stronger windshields, etc.

Ford tried to bring its successful Mondeo (via the Contour & Mystique) to the US, but to no avail.

If you want to get to get an interesting view of American cars, pick up a copy of the British car magazine. It’s a bit pricey ($7.95), but worth it since you get to see what the Europeans drive.

I don’t know why the hatchback failed, because the American car makers are real fond of dealing us designs that we don’t like but have no choice in the matter. Like the new ‘melted’ look of streamline cars. Almost every brand looks like the other! I have real problems telling a Ford from a Chevy and so on.

But, there’s no choice in the matter. I wouldn’t mind smaller cars if they’d build them to survive something over a 4 mph impact.

I used to watch the old, old English movies in the 70’s and they had some neat cars. Tiny vans, tiny trucks, 3 wheeled things that opened from the front and could be picked up by two guys, and curious looking sedans. I saw those trucks with the cab in front of the wheels, low to the ground, looking like a Martian rover and thought they were great, but we never got them here.

Then I saw some European public transportation busses that had big windows, roomy interiors, looked comfortable inside and ultramodern and wondered why we insist on using the old, cramped, dingy Greyhound type. I saw a documentary several years ago on that enclosed motorcycle also and waited for it to show up here, but it never did. Just newer models of those noisy, oil leaking, ear shattering Harley Hawgs.

I’d like to get more European products here because our car companies get complacent and start restricting what designs they’ll give us. I drove a new Ford econoline van a few years back and the damn thing kept falling apart, wheels kept being knocked out of alignment, a/c blowers burned out, a/c switches melted, with all of the weight in the front, they were rear end light and tended to skid on wet roads, had underpowered transmissions and were awkward to get in and out of. Plus, they were ugly, with hardly any room under the little hood to work on the engine.

I’ve seen some great looking medium sized delivery trucks in England with the cab and body fused together, combining practicality and carrying capability.

I watch these road chase programs from England and when the cars they’ve chased went and plowed into a wall, the driver walked away. Do that here in the States and they carry you to the hospital.

I have to admit that the English cops make me laugh with their cool comments on the radio. Totally unlike American cops.

“‘e’s goin’ roight, roight, now straight, 'round the M-18 intersection. Bloody 'ell 'e almost knocked the knickers offa that bloke! Left, left, now roight again and roight ----”

(Second cop) “-- into the bloody wall! Didn’t stop 'im though. 'E’s off again, though a bit slower now. Banged up 'is car a bit, didn’t 'e?”

Or getting behind some car spewing out clouds of smoke. “Ere now! Wots this? Can’t see a bloody thing, can we? This ain’t roight. No one else can see a bloody thing either thanks to the fog e’s puttin’ out. Bloody rude e is! Well, we’ll put a stop to that now.”

Or the English cop who, upon spotting a car weaving a bit down the road, put on his lights, saw one head, then another pop up as they stopped, a female one.

“No wonder ‘e’s not drivin’ roight. He’s avin’ a bit of fun, he is.”

Then, after warning the amorous couple, he shakes his finger at them and says ‘You two behave now!’

A couple of weeks ago I read about a small US manufacturer who’s about to roll out an adorable three-wheeled (IIRC) car called the Sparrow. The publicity photo was great: it showed 4 sparrows parked in a space that fit one normal-sized auto.