Editor's note: A previous version of this report omitted information on Robert Holleyman's title at C&M International. It has been corrected.
WASHINGTON — They say defense wins championships. But in the context of trade, U.S. automakers want the Trump administration to go on offense, arguing that eliminating barriers to exports will do more to support the domestic industry than defensive measures to punish imports.
A big part of their game plan: get U.S. negotiators to aggressively push other nations to accept U.S. safety and performance standards for vehicles, alongside European Union or domestic standards.
The standards issue factors in the heated competition between U.S. and European manufacturers for global sales. Broader acceptance of U.S. standards is needed, U.S. automakers say, because it is too expensive to build vehicles to comply with disparate standards.
"Inaction in the face of the EU's efforts to promote its auto safety standards, and inaction in response to the broader regulatory fragmentation the industry is experiencing will lead to a further isolation of the U.S. and a shrinking ability to export vehicles to key emerging and growing markets," the American Automotive Policy Council, which represents the Detroit 3, said recently in comments submitted to the U.S. Trade Representative as part of its investigation into trade deficits.
Upcoming talks to renegotiate the North American Free Trade Agreement and tweak the bilateral trade pact with South Korea are expected to heavily focus on automobiles.
Industry officials and trade experts say the European Union in recent years has masterfully persuaded countries in other regions to accept vehicles certified to European safety standards, which often effectively freezes out cars built to U.S. standards. The potential damage to U.S. companies is even greater when EU standards are incorporated into free-trade agreements, such as with Vietnam, because regulators in participating countries often interpret the language as an exclusive standard.
European officials have marketed their auto standards as a de facto international standard because they are developed through the U.N. Economic Commission for Europe, which all countries can participate in even though it is a regional body.
A U.S.-certified vehicle must undergo 26 changes, including for external mirrors and defrosting systems, to make it compliant for the EU market. Those changes can cost as much as $1,150 per unit, making it unprofitable for certain U.S.-made vehicles to be sold in markets that exclusively recognize EU standards, according to the American Automotive Policy Council filing.