WHEN BMW boutght Rover in 1994, insiders knew the Freelander would be a success. It was the right size for a new generation of buyers in Europe.
But it was designed for Europe only. Rover did not have enough capital to justify a version for the USA as well. The USA had different rules on what makes a safe car, what makes a clean car.
BMW and Rover executives were in agony. They went over the numbers again and again. They made prototypes. They couldn't do it. The numbers would not justify all the changes that had to be made.
Then the USA changed a rule on passenger airbag deployment. Cars would pass the crash test even if the bags deployed in the slower European fashion. That meant Rover didn't need to re-engineer the entire dashboard. That meant the numbers would work, even though Rover still had to go through two years of emissions testing on the V-6 engine to pass US exhaust rules.
The Freelander experience illustrates the financial discipline followed at BMW. A small change in the numbers made the US Freelander possible, not some boss who changed an opinion.
And the Freelander shows how stupid, expensive and wasteful it is to have different sets of rules for safety and clean air.
Over the years, regulations in the USA, Europe and Japan have converged as science showed the best way to protect the environment and the people.
Today, the differences that remain are often just different ways of measuring the same thing. The differences are defended by bureaucrats who are worried about their jobs, and by weak companies that are trying to hide behind any sort of barrier to competition.
It's time to eliminate the differences. We've got a global industry. It's time for harmony.