Industry Regulation: When is Good, Good Enough?

This is Part 1 of a three-part feature examining the topic of industry regulation within the automotive industry. Who it affects, how it has changed over the years, and if it’s gone too far are just a few of the questions we’ll be exploring. Check back for parts 2 and 3 as the discussion unfolds. And let us know in the comments where you stand on this issue!

First Things First

We understand it’s a sensitive topic that many people—particularly those in leadership positions across the industry—may want to avoid. But sidestepping the elephant in the room only gives the issue more space to grow. We spoke to several industry veterans about the topic of necessary vs excessive regulation. Their professional opinions range from diplomatic acceptance, to disappointment and confusion, to outrage.

There may be widespread disagreement about the government’s ballooning influence over automotive industry regulation and legislation. But a sentiment that all participants share is the power of education through intelligent conversation, as well as ongoing training in a now very tech-driven world. In today’s politically-charged climate, people often seem to forget the power of collaborating different ideas. But we think it’s exactly what the doctor ordered to achieve balance amid some of the current regulatory challenges.

The purpose of this feature is to educate fellow professionals about the debate over required vs unrealistic industry regulation. It will also provide a variety of industry perspectives for readers to come to their own conclusions, and address how the choices we face today shape the automotive industry of tomorrow.

Necessity is the Mother of Innovation

We all agree that oversight and regulation within any industry is necessary. Hellwig Products is a family owned and operated aftermarket manufacturer specializing in 100% American-made, precision-engineered products for 71 years. And their team has certainly experienced its fair share of industry regulation throughout those decades. “My Grandpa used to sell seatbelts when they weren’t installed in vehicles. He worked really hard to sell them, but then regulations came down that stated vehicles needed to be installed with seatbelts from the automaker. So we lost all that business,” said Melanie Hellwig-White, fourth-generation family partner at Hellwig Products.

“We have a history of that kind of stuff happening, right? But, if you look at the greater good, it absolutely made sense for that regulation to come into play. So, we just found ourselves a new market. Our product line has always been around safety and a better handling experience. Therefore, we just had to tune our focus for an opportunity to explore something different,” continued Hellwig-White. In this sense, regulation “is both a pro and a con. We’re forced into it because, obviously, it’s not a decision we made on our own. But the pro is that it’s better for the industry at large,” she added.

Legislation for higher standards in stability control surfaced around the time of the economic recession. And what could have potentially crippled an aftermarket manufacturer like Hellwig Products, actually resulted in validation. The regulation helped the company refine and streamline certain practices. And they realized their manufacturing processes were already compliant in many areas. “Going through that process allowed us to have a real sales tool to show, even though it was something we were forced to do. It could have been seen purely as a con, but it turned into a good thing for us,” continued Hellwig-White.

Mother Nature Thanks You

Likewise, those outside the auto industry would have a hard time finding many self-proclaimed car guys, motorsport fans, and off-roaders who have a total disregard for the environment. Amateur racers and enthusiasts of all kinds pursue their passion for speed and crawling within lawful limits. From trailering their race cars to-and-from the track, to Tread Lightly! practices on the trail.

Many longtime industry professionals and lifelong performance enthusiasts, like August Cederstrand of Edelbrock, remember what it was like growing up in the polluted conditions of California during the 1970s.

“There were days when playing outside at school wasn’t allowed because the air was brown. Catalytic converters and other pollution-cutting regulations in local industries have made the air far better to breathe, even with there being significantly more people living in SoCal now than in the seventies,” said Cederstrand.

Eventual standards in emissions control were obviously a move in the right direction. And they delivered an immediate impact on the health and wellness of every resident.

No reasonable gearhead would argue that a safer environment isn’t a better environment. They care about where their family and friends live, work, and play. But when the EPA and NHTSA continue to set stricter and farther-reaching CAFE standards, and well-respected auto companies like Volkswagen and GM are caught in the spotlight of emissions scandals, one has to wonder are we setting the bar too high?

Stick with us, as we’ve got a whole lot more to report on this topic! What do you think? Are we asking too much of auto manufacturers? Or are they just not delivering?

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