U.S. auto exports to Europe could quadruple within 15 years if regulators get rid of tariffs and adopt standard vehicle-safety rules, automaker associations say.
That point, which European automakers and the Detroit 3 are making to officials with trans-Atlantic trade talks approaching, suggests that a new trade pact could reverse the trend toward building assembly plants near car buyers.
"Obviously, there's a long tradition of building cars where you sell them," said Matt Blunt, president of the American Automotive Policy Council, which represents General Motors, Ford Motor Co. and Chrysler Group. "But we see a European free-trade deal as a tremendous opportunity to grow our exports."
In 2011, the United States imported $25 billion worth of cars from the European Union and exported $6 billion in return, according to European Commission data.
The United States has a 2.5 percent tariff on European-made passenger vehicles and the European Union has a 10 percent tariff on American-made passenger vehicles. Regulatory differences between the markets are equal to an added tariff of 26 percent, Blunt's group and the European Automobile Manufacturers' Association say in comments filed May 10.
Eliminating some barriers and all tariffs would boost EU auto exports to the United States by 71 to 149 percent and U.S. exports to the European Union by 207 to 347 percent by 2027, the groups say.
To knock down the barriers, automakers want U.S. regulators to accept cars certified in Europe, and vice versa. But the regulators are not sold.
"We base our standards on data and science, and the risks we face on the roads every day in America. Europe has different issues," David Strickland, administrator of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, said last week.
He added: "If there's an opportunity to harmonize, we will."