Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Yes, I'm Writing about Politics. The "Grey Market" Petition

I just wanted to take this opportunity to thank the United States Department of Transportation ("DOT," as we have come to know them). As motoring enthusiasts, there's no government agency we love more. They mandate such innovative design features and pollution standards that get more and more exciting as the years go on. I can't wait to see what they come up with next, and I know you can't, either.

Just kidding.

Remember the 1980s, when Mercedes-Benz brought the S-Class to the United States? Well, not every S-Class. We only got the painfully slow six-cylinder model. The V-8 500SEL was not brought stateside, thanks to pollution and safety standards. Rich people, who tend to be some of the more prolific Mercedes customers, decided that this wasn't cool, so they imported their own 500SEL's.

A European-model Mercedes S-Class. Photo courtesy Wikipedia

Vehicles brought to the States this way are known as "grey market cars," and the 80s were full of them. Range Rovers were quite popular with the wealthy, being imported as grey market cars well before their official 1987 introduction to the land of the free. Other cool grey market cars you might recognize include the Lamborghini Countach and Mercedes G-Wagen- both of which were imported legitimately after a few years of waiting, but not without modifications.

And if you've ever perused AutoTrader or eBay Motors' selection of late 1970s or early 1980s imports, you'll notice a fair share with funny VINs and cloth seats.

But you won't find a grey market car made after 1988 in the United States- not unless it's an illegal import, or the owner was extremely rich- because in 1988, the Motor Vehicle Safety Compliance Act was passed, thanks to your friendly national politicians and some lobbyists that Mercedes-Benz threw a couple dollars to.

This "Compliance Act" was great for foreign car manufacturers, because you couldn't buy a car from anyone except their US dealers. But it's not so good for car enthusiasts. Since 1988, it has been effectively impossible to import a non-DOT-standard car into this country (unless it is over 25 years old, an exception added in 1998).  That means that we can't bring over awesome cars like the Land Rover Defender, which was killed in the US circa 1997 but is still being sold as a brand new model in Europe to this very day. You can't import a Nissan Skyline, either- and for some reason, people think those are pretty cool.

Are cars designed for Europe really so deadly that we can't drive them here?

Something you won't see over here: a 2007 Land Rover Defender.

Some smart people have created a petition on the White House website to stop this nonsense. Political messages aren't particularly within the scope of this blog, but this is one worth dedicating a post to. Sign the petition here- it only takes a few minutes to get an account.