Bob Schildgen is a columnist for Sierra, the magazine of the Sierra Club, where he answers questions from the public under the alter ego Mr. Green. This question and response originally appeared in a June post to Ask Mr. Green. Schildgen contributed this article to LiveScience's Expert Voices: Op-Ed & Insights.
There are several reasons the most efficient cars available overseas don't get to hitch a ride across the oceans on gigantic ships. Many fail to meet strict U.S. emission standards and "safety, bumper, and theft prevention standards," as the Department of Homeland Security itself puts it. Therefore, the cost of the modifications needed to qualify a vehicle for U.S. standards can make it difficult for these fuel-saving automobiles to compete in the american marketplace.
Marketing challenges also play a part in curtailing imports of efficient cars, because size does matter to Americans. Despite rising gas prices, the U.S. public remains backward in its car preferences, infatuated by bigger, more powerful vehicles that get crappy mileage. This makes foreign manufacturers understandably reluctant to try convincing us to try their smaller, more sensible, more economical rides.
A third factor is more strictly economic in nature. If a given country's currency is too strong, then Americans tend to shun imports from those locales, because as consumers Americans have to fork over more dollars to get the vehicles . That means foreign manufacturers may have to lower their prices to the point where their small cars become unprofitable. Honda was actually losing money on some of its small exports last year because the Yen was so strong.
I'd love to share a conspiracy theory here, like the old one about the how the evil automakers won't sell a 100-mile-per-gallon fueling system stashed in a underground vault below Detroit because they're in cahoots with the evil oil companies to push more evil gasoline. But alas, as the great William of Ockham taught us so very long ago, you'll most likely get the best answers if you start with the simplest questions.
Got a question for Mr. Green? Contact him here. The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the publisher. This article was originally published on LiveScience.com.