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Category: Government/Legal

What is the ‘Chicken Tax’ and why is it bad for imported trucks?

If you’re an American fan of small pickups and other utility vehicles, you may often find yourself reading about unobtanium models that are sold in what seems like every automotive market but our own. Hey, this is America. We love trucks, right? Even tiny ones like the Ford Maverick have proven wildly successful, suggesting that small trucks imported from overseas could perform similarly well. So why don’t we see them? Blame the Chicken Tax. 

What is the Chicken Tax?

You’d be forgiven for assuming the Chicken Tax has something to do with transporting barn fowl, but believe it or not, the two are almost entirely unrelated. So how is it that we live in a world where chickens are to blame for expensive imported pickup trucks? Well, the simple (and simultaneously quite complex) answer is “politics.”

Essentially, “Chicken Tax” is a complete misnomer. It refers to an import tariff imposed on (among several other things) light-duty trucks. It gets its name not from its purpose, but from its genesis: it was conceived as part of a series of retaliatory tariffs intended to punish Europe for taxing American chicken exports. So there were chickens involved at some point, you see, just not in any way that relates to cars. The story is pretty wild, and we’ll refer you to this excellent Writeup by Wired if you’d like the full version.

How much is the Chicken Tax?

This is no small penalty: The import tariff on light duty trucks was set at 25%. That’s stiff enough to deter quite a bit of overseas competition, and as some automakers have learned, difficult (and not to mention costly) to circumvent. Ford recently settled a decade-long “Chicken Tax” investigation over its importation of Transit Connect utility vans in a way that it still maintains was compliant with U.S. regulations. Needless to say, federal regulators disagreed.

What does it apply to?

Nominally, the tariff was imposed on light trucks, but given how broadly that definition is used in today’s regulatory environment, it’s really more accurate to say that the Chicken Tax applies to utility vans and pickup trucks. Passenger vans and SUVs are exempt from the Chicken Tax, but not exempt entirely from import taxes. They’re assessed at a far more reasonable 2.5%. That’s why you see plenty of imported crossovers and sport ‘utes on the road, but not nearly as many trucks or cargo vans. 

In the early days, overseas manufacturers found ways around the Tax by exporting “chassis cab” models to the U.S. At that point, a bed would be attached to the rear frame and the entire truck could be sold as a pickup. This loophole was eventually closed. The Subaru Brat (as featured in the Wired story above) famously came with two jump seats in the back to qualify as a “passenger” vehicle until the law was adjusted to account for anything with a bed, jump seats or not. Womp-womp. 

Who pays the Chicken Tax?

In theory, the Chicken Tax is a cost eaten by the manufacturer and baked into the car or truck’s sticker price. In practice, very few manufacturers are subject to the Chicken Tax in 2024 because most trucks and cargo vehicles sold in the United States are built here. The rare exceptions tend to be smaller boutique builders whose customers may not love paying extra, but are likely able to afford it. 


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What does ABS mean on a car? Understanding anti-lock braking system

There are a lot of opaque initialisms associated with cars that can be confusing when you see them on a spec sheet or a badge right on the vehicle. One such example is ABS, which has nothing to do with a gym rat’s six-pack. ABS stands for anti-lock brake system or anti-lock braking system. It describes an automatic feature that senses when a wheel is about to lock up and then reduces brake pressure at that wheel briefly to prevent it. You may have noticed the ABS light flashing or lighting up solid on your dashboard, which can mean a few different things.

How ABS works

Before ABS, new drivers were taught to “pump the brakes” in situations where the wheels are likely to lock up, such as when driving on a wet or icy road. A wheel will lock up when the tire mounted to it exceeds its available grip under braking. This can send the vehicle into a skid. To prevent that undesirable outcome, drivers were taught to pulse brake pressure, giving the tires a chance to regain traction before attempting to slow the vehicle again.

Anti-lock brakes made that pumping a thing of the past. Using sensors at the wheels, the control electronics can sense when a lockup is imminent and very briefly release the pressure to the system, usually only to the specific wheel in question. This manifests in a quick pulsating noise and some vibration in the brake pedal. Although these can be unsettling sensations, it’s important for drivers of an ABS-equipped vehicle to know that they should keep their foot planted on the stop pedal, allowing the system to handle the pumping. ABS can pump the brakes more quickly and precisely than any human.

It’s a good idea for new drivers to experience this feedback in a safe environment; an empty, rain-soaked parking lot is a good option. Just get up to speed and then press firmly on the brake pedal until the car comes to a full stop. Hopefully when the system comes on in a real emergency the driver will trust it to do its job instead of backing off of the pedal.

What does it mean when the ABS light appears on my dashboard?

When ABS is active, the indicator light on your dashboard will flash quickly to let you know it’s working. If you see the ABS light constantly illuminated, however, it’s a signal that something’s wrong. Depending on the problem and the vehicle, this could mean that ABS is not working or is working at reduced capacity. Potential causes include problems with the wheel sensors, an issue with the electro-hydraulic ABS pump, or something amiss within the ABS control module.

If you see this light on your dash, it’s time to pull out your owner’s manual to see what to do. In most cases, you’ll want to drive the vehicle as if ABS isn’t functioning – which means leaving extra space between your car and the one ahead to account for longer stoping distances and manually pumping the brakes any time you sense a lockup – and get the car to a mechanic to address and rectify the problem.

ABS used to be a novelty

Automotive anti-lock brakes were first offered on the 1966 Jensen FF, followed closely by systems offered by Ford (Sure-Track in 1969) and General Motors (Track Master in 1971). All of those early systems acted only on the rear wheels; the first car to offer four-wheel ABS was the 1971 Chrysler Imperial with the Sure Brake system. Although it’s often credited with pioneering anti-lock braking systems, Mercedes-Benz didn’t roll out its version until the 1978 S-Class. The Mercedes system was the first to use digital control, however.

When anti-lock braking systems first showed up on the market, manufacturers often put a small badge on the car (usually on a front fender or somewhere on the rear) to tell folks that it was equipped with this new safety system. As the technology became more prevalent, such telltales went away.

The feature began proliferating throughout the market in the 1980s, and by the ’90s it was at least available on most models. The U.S. government mandated the inclusion of ABS along with electronic stability control in 2012 as part of FMVSS 126. Any vehicle produced to be sold in the U.S. from September of that year required the system be included as standard equipment.

Today, anti-lock brakes are becoming commonplace on motorcycles, and many safety advocates are pushing for the system to be mandated on two-wheelers. Automatic emergency braking, a safety system that relies one ABS to slow a vehicle in the event of an impending collision, will be required on vehicles produced for U.S. sale from September 2029.

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From decay to dazzling: Ford restores grandeur to Detroit train station

DETROIT — The once-blighted monolithic Michigan Central Station — for decades a symbol of Detroit’s decline — has new life following a massive six-year, multimillion-dollar renovation to create a hub for mobility projects in the rebirth of the Motor City.

The windowless, hulking, scavenger-ravaged structure that ominously shadowed the city’s Corktown neighborhood is now home to Ford Motor Co. and the centerpiece of a sprawling 30-acre (12-hectare) mobility innovation district.

The old train station’s first tenant, Google’s Code Next Detroit computer science education program, is expected to move in by late June. Grand opening ceremonies include an outdoor concert on Thursday, with tours for the public starting Friday.

“The train station … it is perhaps the most powerful story in Michigan of the power of historic renovation,” Detroit Regional Chamber President and Chief Executive Sandy Baruah said. “To turn something that was blight into something that is hugely attractive and is an anchor as opposed to a deficit is huge.”

The restoration effort — part of the automaker’s more than $900 million project to create a place where new transportation and mobility ideas are nurtured and developed — was just as massive as the size of the more than century-old, 500,000-square-foot building.

In numbers:

  • More than 3,100 workers spent about 1.7 million hours of labor on the station and its surrounding public spaces.
  • 29,000 Gustavino tiles were restored in its Grand Hall.
  • 8.6 million miles of new grout was laid across the 21,000-square-foot ceiling.
  • 8 million bricks, 23,000 square feet of marble flooring and 90,000 square feet of decorative plaster were restored or replicated.
  • 3.5 million gallons of water was pumped from the basement.
  • Installation of 300 miles of electrical cable and wiring and 5.6 miles (9 kilometers) of plumbing.

“It was always my hope that this project would be a catalyst for moving the city and our industry together into the future,” Bill Ford, the automaker’s executive chair and great-grandson of its legendary founder, Henry Ford, told The Associated Press last week. “It’s always the future. We’re just getting started, now. Took a long time for us to get here and a lot of hard work and a lot of blood, sweat and tears to get to this point.”

The train station’s history reflects the city’s fortunes during its heyday as the world’s car capital and later misfortunes as thousands of autoworkers and other residents fled Detroit for life in the suburbs.

Michigan Central Railroad started purchasing land around 1908 in Corktown, the city’s oldest neighborhood, for the new train station, according to HistoricDetroit.org. The depot opened in late 1913. But as traveling by train gave way to commuter air travel and as more Americans chose to use the nation’s interstates, the numbers of people coming through Michigan Central steadily dropped.

The last train pulled out in 1988, and for years after the building fell into disrepair, neglect and abandonment. It became a destination for the curious and urban adventurers seeking out such places. Other buildings in Detroit, particularly factories, suffered the same or similar fate, but due to Michigan Central’s size it became a symbol of the city’s decline.

Redevelopment by its former owner never materialized. Then in 2018, Ford announced it was buying the 18-story building and adjacent structures as part of its plans for a more than 1 million square foot campus focusing on autonomous vehicles.

“There’s a lot of innovation going on here,” said Jim Farley, Ford chief executive. “Very much the future of the company is going to be housed here and on the campus. It represents our future revenues.”

The project is expected to bring with it thousands of tech-related jobs. Restaurants, new hotels and other service-industry businesses already are moving into and near Corktown.

In December, state officials announced three proposed housing development efforts intended to meet housing needs around Michigan Central and the innovation district.

Michigan Central and several other efforts around Detroit are expected to accelerate southeastern Michigan’s innovation economy, said Baruah, who added that the building and the surrounding campus will help draw the best and most innovative minds to the area.

“It’s really an attraction play. It’s about talent,” he said.

The reopening of the train station also comes as Detroit apparently has turned the corner from national joke to national attraction. Nearly a decade from exiting its embarrassing bankruptcy, the motor city has stabilized its finances, improved city services, staunched the population losses that saw more than a million people leave since the 1950s, and made inroads in cleaning up blight across its 139 square miles.

Detroit now is a destination for conventions and meetings. Last month, Detroit set an attendance record for the NFL draft after more than 775,000 fans poured into downtown last month for the three-day event.

The buzz about Detroit “is very different nationally,” Bill Ford said.

“I think when people see a project like this it’ll really put an exclamation on that,” he added. “And when we’re trying to recruit people from around the country and around the world, wouldn’t you say to them then, ’Come to Detroit and let me show you where you can work and play and live, and also live affordably.’”

The significance of Michigan Central’s rebirth is not lost on Mayor Mike Duggan, whose administration has guided Detroit back to respectability since the city’s 2014 exit from the largest municipal bankruptcy in U.S. history.

“I’ve been waiting 40 years for this day and so have all long-time to Detroiters, so it’s going to be very special,” Duggan said last week. “It’ll be a very emotional day.”

“The abandoned train station was the national symbol of Detroit’s decline and bankruptcy,” he explained. “It was on the cover of Time magazine under the headline ‘bankruptcy.’ So the fact that not only has the city come back, but that the train station has come back in such a spectacular way and the place where we’re going to be designing the automobiles of the future. It’s now about the future, not about the past.”

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