It is said by many that travel is the next best thing to formal education, meaning that experiencing different cultures is only a little less mind expanding than a good teacher presenting interesting subject matter.

Having been to Brazil a few times this year, with the last trip quickly followed by a tour of plants in the United States, small differences between vehicles sold in those countries and comparable European models became readily apparent. For example, while driving in São Paulo, a colleague pointed out that very few cars had side indicator lights. Those that did were either highspecification versions or imported models. Later, travelling in the United States, exactly the same part was missing from the vast majority of vehicles.

It was also interesting to note that while many European models have dedicated LED driving lights - the risible designs some carmakers are adopting for these is for a later conversation - the vast majority of models produced in the United States simply have the side or running lights permanently illuminated. European models are that much more noticeable for these bright white additions.

The decision to omit these parts comes down to cost. After all, if a side repeater light is $2 (estimated) and 500,000 cars are being produced each year, basic mathematics says this is a savings of $2 million (two lights per car). Employee promotions have been based on considerably less. This is not just related to ‘optional’ components. While attending a November conference event, a senior OEM executive was approached by a technology provider to ask why he’d not heard back about a proposal concerning a new RFID vehicle tracking tag. Reminded about the cost of each tag, the response was: “I can’t say for certain, but the $20-per-tag price is probably the problem. We’d prefer it to be somewhere around $2.”

Essentially, the new RFID tag offered more functionality over existing versions, but a dedicated power supply and an uprated chip had driven up the price. Yes, the functionality was good, but it was naive of the technology provider to believe that any carmaker would consider buying hundreds of thousands of such tags, when lost units would translate to more red ink in the ‘loss’ column. This brings to mind the mantra of a top automotive executive in India - ‘if it’s not adding value, it’s wastage’. With regards to the side repeater and LED lights, a decision has clearly been made that despite any related safety benefit, adding them to a vehicle does not make economic sense. Which in of itself is interesting, considering that back in the mid-1980s, the United States was the first country to make rear centre brake lights mandatory equipment; they’re now required for almost every new car produced around the globe. This is clearly related to safety, but it can be inferred that the decision to omit side repeaters and bright LEDs is where OEMs draw the line with regards to balancing cost and safety.