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Sub-standard cars loophole in EU legislation still wide open

Publication date: 31 March 2008

FIA clubs want real action from the EU on unsafe cars being imported into Europe. Thanks to a loophole in the so-called European Type Approval system that governs the conformity of vehicles to strict safety and environmental norms, sub-standard car models are being imported and sold on the EU market without having an overall EU type approval.


As a founding member of the New Car Assessment Programme (Euro NCAP), the FIA has been pushing hard for the EU to finally put a stop to misuse of an import loophole, the so-called “individual type approval” procedure. This allows “one-by-one” imports of serial produced passenger cars into an EU member state. Approved as “individual” units, and meeting one member state's safety and environmental requirements, these cars are actually imported in substantial numbers and can be sold on in other European countries.


The dangers of such “loophole” cars have been adequately highlighted by German club ADAC's crash testing of two Chinese cars: the Landwind in September 2005 and the Brilliance in May 2007. “The very bad performance of both cars in the crash tests defied all standard requirements,” believes Werner Kraus, Chairman of the FIA Eurocouncil. “Thanks to a loophole in the European Type Approval system these two Chinese car models had to be allowed on the roads of the European Union without being subject an overall EU type approval,” wrote Kraus in a letter to Günther Verheugen, Vice President of the European Commission, who is responsible for the car industry. Kraus also wrote to representatives of all EU Member States warning them of the open loophole.


The loophole has more recently been exploited to protect large gas guzzling vehicles from measures aimed at combating climate change. Vehicles imported as individual units do not have to declare their fuel consumption or CO2 emissions.


Commission had promised to close loophole


Back in November 2005, at a conference organised by the FIA European Bureau in Brussels, FIA President, Max Mosley said “With all the trouble that car manufacturers go through to protect the consumer by making sure that type approval is as it should be, we can’t have exceptions”. In response to FIA findings, the European Commission promised to finally close the loophole in then forthcoming legislation. According to the FIA European Bureau, this new legislation (Directive 2007/46/EC) has so far failed to close the loophole after entering into force on 29 October 2007. In his letter to Commissioner Verheugen and others, Kraus expressed his “amazement” that the safety threatening loophole has not been closed in the recent legislation despite promises to the contrary. The so-called “individual” type approval continues to be used in a manner that allows mass imports. “It is still possible for a large series of cars to be sold in the EU, without having been subjected to an overall EU type-approval and without having been crash tested for safety,” continued Kraus. “At all costs, the high standards of road worthiness and safety that European consumers, our members and your citizens deserve, must not be jeopardised,” he added.


In reply, the Commission optimistically states that it is “Convinced that the new regime that will be put in place from 29.04.2009 is more severe in terms of compliance with Community legislation than ever before”. In the meantime, however the Commission acknowledges that in the absence of full implementation of the new type approval Directive, the existing individual type approval scheme “may lead to abuses”.  Not totally satisfied with this response, Kraus will ask EU clubs to apply constant pressure, ensuring this issue remains on the political agenda.


The Austrian club, ÖAMTC, informed Othmar Karas, a member of the European Parliament (MEP). “When will the loophole be closed, that currently enables the sale in the EU of large numbers of passenger cars via an individual type approval?” wrote Karas in an official parliamentary question (PQ) to both the European Commission and the Council of the EU Member States. In his question, Karas refers to the FIA's November 2005 conference presenting the poor crash test results of the “Jiangling Landwind” imported under the loophole. Karas, however, is not the only MEP worried by the loophole that has not been closed despite the new framework directive 2007/46/EC. Ari Vatanen, who first asked questions in Parliament in late 2005, has also written a PQ. Vatanen finds it “incomprehensible that cars of highly dubious safety and environmental quality are being made available to EU citizens after being allowed into the Union through the backdoor, using the individual type approval”.


Dutch loopholes
The official Dutch Chevrolet importer has announced that the Chevrolet HHR will be sold at 89 of the 127 official Chevrolet dealers in the Netherlands. Here, the Chevrolet HHR has an individual type approval based on testing performed by the TÜV in Germany. There could then be some 200 cars available for sale in the Netherlands and possibly up to 2,500 cars for sale throughout Europe thanks to the Netherlands' “individual approval”. This car, however, does not have a European type approval and has not been crash tested for frontal impact protection (Directive 96/79/EC) and side impact protection (Directive 96/27/EC). Not only can vehicles thus potentially jeopardise road safety, but they can also avoid environmental taxes. In the Netherlands, the Suzuki Grand Vitara 2.7 V6, for example, is being imported as under individual approval. The Vitara thereby avoids the country's new "slurp" tax for cars with engines emitting more than 232 gm per kilometre. Charged a rate of €110 for every additional CO2 gram, every Suzuki vitara sold could represent a tax evasion of €8,140 euro (or $12,875.49 USD).

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