Another Car We Can’t Buy

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Here’s another car you can’t buy because of government rigmarole – the Ford Kuga.

Well, not quite. You can buy the vehicle – it’s sold as the Ford Escape in this country. I just reviewed it last week (see here). What you can’t buy here is the Escape with the same engines that are available in the European version of the Escape, which is called the Kuga. The high-efficiency diesel engines. Or the available manual transmission. In the United States, the Escape is sold only with gas engines (and only with automatic transmissions). The best mileage you can get from these is 23 city, 33 highway – with the available 1.6 liter “Ecoboost” turbocharged gas engine and automatic transmission, which isn’t bad for a small SUV. But it’s terrible compared with the 40-plus MPG the Euro-spec Kuga equipped with the available 2.0 liter TDCI diesel engine and manual transmission delivers (see here for more).

So why doesn’t it deliver that mileage here? Three letters: EPA.

European-spec diesel engines don’t conform to U.S. EPA spec emissions requirements. They’re not legal to sell here. To make them legal – to make them acceptable to the EPA – would entail modifications that would make them too expensive at the individual retail level; they’d be at a competitive disadvantage relative to other vehicles and probably would not sell well. Which is why they aren’t sold here.

It’s not that the European Kuga diesel – or other diesel models sold by other manufacturers in Europe – are “dirty.” If anything, countries such as the UK are more fastidious about air quality than the US. The problem is their regulatory regime – and the standards that new motor vehicles must comply with – aredifferent than ours. They have a different bureaucracy, with different definitions and different measures. It’s tough enough – expensive enough – to get a vehicle past muster with the Euro bureaucrats. Doing it a second time – to placate American bureaucrats – is just too much. Not worth doing.

On top of the federal red tape, there is state-level red tape. Motor vehicles must in many cases also comply with additional regulations that apply to vehicles sold in certain states – California, for instance. A car that might be okey-dokey to sell in Virginia might not be ok to sell in CA. But California is a big market for cars. To not be able to sell a given model in CA (or other large markets) amounts to a big incentive not to sell the car anywhere. It’s not worth the trouble.

Which is why don’t get the diesel Kuga – or diesel versions of Land Rovers, Volkswagens and so on that are readily available in Europe. They all get much better mileage than their US-equivalent counterparts. Some deliver numbers that nothing on four wheels – including the most “efficient” gas-electric hybrids – can approach. Well, nothing on four wheels that’s available here.

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