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Why Aren’t Some Popular Foreign Cars Sold in America?

If you’ve traveled abroad, you’ve probably seen a lot of interesting foreign cars that aren’t available in the United States. You also may have wondered why exactly that is. After all, if a car is popular in somewhere such as South America, Australia or Europe, why wouldn’t it also be popular in the U.S.? This is a good question, and we have the answer.

Regulations Galore

The biggest issue stopping some automakers from entering the U.S. market is regulations. The U.S. market has some of the strictest automotive regulations in the world, including safety standards and emissions rules. As a result, some automakers find the cost of entering the U.S. market and complying with its regulations to simply be too high — so they don’t bother selling their vehicles here.

Interestingly, this prevents the arrival of some vehicles that might otherwise be popular — especially SUVs, trucks and vans sold abroad. But for many foreign automakers, such as Peugeot, Lancia and Citroen, one popular vehicle wouldn’t be enough to justify the cost of jumping through our many regulatory hoops — and establishing a large network of dealerships throughout the entire country.

Different Tastes

Another problem that prevents many foreign cars from coming our way is that U.S. buyers often have different tastes than foreign car shoppers. For instance, gasoline is cheaper in the U.S. than it is in most foreign countries, which means that Americans generally want cars with bigger engines and more power. Likewise, our country is larger and more spread out than most of Europe, so we want bigger vehicles for bigger cities and bigger roads.

The result is that many foreign vehicles probably wouldn’t sell too well in the U.S. While the tiny Citroen C1 you rented on your European vacation may have been perfectly adept for Europe’s small roads and tiny towns, the same car probably wouldn’t fare quite as well on U.S. highways contending with large pickups, full-size tractor-trailers and high speed limits.

What About Diesels?

Many shoppers often wonder why Americans can’t buy highly efficient diesel vehicles that are offered in Asian and European countries. After all, some diesel models overseas return 50 or 60 miles per gallon — figures that would even put the miserly Prius to shame. So why don’t those cars come to America?

Once again, one reason is regulations: Some of these engines don’t meet U.S. emissions standards, which means that automakers would have to spend a lot of time getting them past regulators.

Another major reason we don’t see more frugal diesels in America is that performance often wouldn’t be up to American standards. Many American shoppers expect all cars to be punchy and quick when accelerating away from traffic lights and up highway on-ramps, and 70- or 80-horsepower diesel vehicles just won’t provide drivers with the performance they’re used to.

So there are many reasons why foreign cars don’t come to the U.S., including regulations, hp numbers and different tastes. And even in our increasingly global world, it’s likely that this will remain the case for years to come.

Doug Demuro
Doug DeMuro writes articles and makes videos, mainly about cars. Doug was born in Denver, Colorado, and received an economics degree from Emory University in Atlanta. After graduation, Doug spent three years working for Porsche Cars North America. Eventually, he quit his job to become a writer, largely because it meant that he no longer had to wear pants. Doug’s work has been featured in a... Read More

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