A number of small and fuel-efficient cars in General Motors' global portfolio, such as the Chevrolet Beat (concept pictured), are being kept from U.S. sale because of differences in the official crash test procedures to those in Europe and elsewhere. Bob Lutz, GM's vice chairman and chief of product development, thinks a three-year freeze on crash test requirements would help get those vehicles to market and improve fuel economy while other, longer-term solutions are developed.

Lutz isn't afraid to couch the whole assertion in plain business terms, neglecting the safety issue entirely. “In Europe, the crash-test procedures are different than in the U.S., so the tests are different. If our government says cars that meet crash tests in other countries are good enough to be sold here, we would have more high-mileage, small-car flexibility,” he said in an interview with Wards Auto.

Already the car industry is lobbying heavily for a $50 billion low-interest loan package to be funded by the taxpayers, so the addition of the request for relaxed or suspended safety testing might be taken as adding injury to insult. Nevertheless, the tough march toward 35mpg (6.7L/100km) fuel efficiency standards is already exacting a heavy cost within the industry, and at GM in particular as the SUV and pickup-truck-heavy lineup that sold so well in recent years now faces a buying public that wants smaller cars and state governments that want lower emissions.

The Chevy Beat, designed and built by Daewoo for the global non-U.S. market, would be ideal if only it could meet safety standards. Unfortunately all the fresh looks and low fuel consumption in the world don't add up to a chassis that was not designed to meet U.S. testing in the first place. Lutz has previously commented that it would take a complete redesign to make the car salable in America with the present safety standards, and that won't do any good for keeping costs down or getting cars to market more quickly.

The Cruze, which was designed from the start for U.S. sale, has been pushed through the design and development process at an accelerated rate, but its still not expected to make landfall in the U.S. until 2011 despite its 2009 debut for Europe. Until then the Cobalt, Aveo and a handful of other small and medium-sized vehicles will have to carry GM's fuel efficiency banner.