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 – are different 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.
For example, the 1.2 liter TDI VW Polo (see here) which averages 60 MPG. Yes, it’s a bit on the slow side: Zero to 60 takes about 14 seconds. But if the criteria is fuel efficiency – and in particular, affordable fuel efficiency – a car such as the Polo is the ticket. Sticker price – over there, with the obnoxious 20 percent Value Added Tax folded in – is $15,635 pounds (UK), which translates to $24,498 U.S. dollars. Without VAT – about $3,127 pounds in this case – the cost of the Polo would be $12,508 pounds – or about $19,598 dollars at current exchange rates.
That’s about the same amount Toyota charges for its least expensive (and smallest) gas-electric hybrid, the Prius C ($19,080). This car rates 53 city, 43 highway – 50 MPG combined. Which means it can’t touch the Polo diesel when it comes to fuel efficiency. And as far as performance, the Prius isn’t much quicker (zero to 60 in about 11.4 seconds) and once rolling, the Polo actually beats the Prius C. It (the VW) has a top speed of almost 120 MPH. Certainly sufficient margin for steady-state cruising at US highway speeds of 70-80.
But we’ll never know, because we’re not allowed to have the Polo – or the diesel Kuga – or a panoply of diesel-powered cars and SUVs that are commonly available everywhere else. Not because they’re “dirty” – but because of EPA (and state-level little EPA) ukase.
If they were really interested in us using less fuel, they’d throw down the gantlet and remove every bureaucratic obstacle to the importation of state-of-the-art European diesels. The fact that they have effectively closed off this country to such cars and continue to make it economically unappealing for major car companies such as Ford and VW and Land Rover to bring such cars to the U.S. speaks volumes about either their catatonic ignorance or their outright malevolence.
I’m not sure which it is – but ultimately, it doesn’t matter. Whether as a result of stupidity – the righteous ignorance of politicians and bureaucrats who know nothing about cars or how they work yet presume to dictate terms and conditions to those who do know how they work – or just because they have the power and enjoy flexing their muscles by denying us things.
In the end, we’re still denied.
Remember the Kuga – and the Polo – next time you hear a political suit warbling about the need to be more “efficient.”
Throw it in the Woods?