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EU takes major step forward towards harmonizing electric vehicle technical rules.

FOR growing markets such as electric cars, keeping regulatory standards simple can make or break a new technology. It can also give manufacturers a head start in the race to dominate a new market, if they are located in countries where rules are relatively straightforward and similar to those in other jurisdictions.

As a result, the proposal made today by the European Commission matters. The executive of the European Union (EU) has formally proposed that the EU adopts the global technical standard as agreed in 1997 by the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE) as its own rulebook on making electric cars. Assuming the EU's legislature (the EU Council of Ministers and European Parliament) agrees then all 27 member states of the EU will have the same rules for manufacturing electric cars. And crucially, given that Japan and South Korea also use the UNECE's international vehicle regulations as the template for their own auto industry standards, EU rules should mesh with those in the far east, opening potential export markets for European electric car makers.

EU industry Commissioner Antonio Tajani promised to aggressively promote regulatory harmonisation when he started work in his new post in February. He said today: "Electrical vehicles are one of the most promising technologies for greener transport. Knowing that these will be generally available to consumers in the very near future we need to ensure that they are safe to use. These proposals aim at doing just that."

Critically, the UNECE and soon-to-be EU standards are designed to make using and repairing electric vehicles safe. A Commission note said: "Electric power trains operate at high voltage levels (500 Volts)." As a result, the standards are designed "to ensure that all electric vehicles marketed in Europe are constructed according to a common safety standard and thereby protecting vehicle users from getting into contact with high voltage parts of the vehicle." As well as replacing "divergent" national manufacturing design rules within the EU and "reducing the administrative burden for manufacturers", the Commission stressed that the proposal "will also help European car manufacturers sell their electric cars in [non-EU] countries" following UNECE rules, "such as Japan".

Meanwhile, at the same time the Commission has continued its established policy of directly writing all kinds of UNECE standards into the EU law book, covering all kinds of vehicles and parts--not just electric cars. It has also asked ministers and MEPs to adopt 61 different regulations as European Union law, spanning a wide range of technologies. These include rules on electromagnetic compatibility, passenger car braking, audible warning devices and signals, lateral protection of goods vehicles, steering equipment, and others. The idea is ultimately to ensure there is no difference between EU and UN technical rules for approving vehicles for sale--a major step forward for the development of truly global regulations, (although the USA and Canada remain outside the UNECE system). Tajani added: "I am pleased that we are reducing red-tape by eliminating what in reality is a double-burden for industry when it comes to car type approval."

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Author:Nuthall, Keith
Publication:International News
Date:Jun 1, 2010
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