BIRMINGHAM, England – The top executive of Ford of Europe Inc.’s U.K. operations says European Union new car buyers soon may have to pay 20%-25% higher prices for their vehicles due to upcoming emissions and pedestrian-impact regulations.

One directive, aimed at making cars more pedestrian-friendly, seems to "defy the laws of physics," Ford of Britain's Chairman Roger Putnam says. Speaking at the Birmingham International Motor Show being held here this week, Putnam says the legislative measures could add €5,000 ($6,000) to the price of a new car.

The European Parliament in June 2002 approved a voluntary move by auto makers to make safer cars, promising legislation would follow to protect pedestrians. Measures agreed to at the time included putting antilock braking systems on all new vehicles by 2005 and abolishing bull bars on the front of cars.

However, the European Transport and Safety Council called for cars to meet strict tests that demonstrated they were less lethal when they hit pedestrians. The group claimed 2,000 lives annually could be saved if auto makers left a space between the front bumper and the main riding beam across the front of a car.

Published reports say 9,000 pedestrians and cyclists are killed annually in the 15-country European Union and 20,000 more are injured in accidents involving cars.

The new European directive, issued in February 2003 to take effect in 2005, now compels auto makers to design new hoods and bumpers aimed at significantly reducing the severity of injuries to pedestrians at speeds of up to 25 mph (40 km/h). (See related story: Auto Makers Await Final EC Ruling on Pedestrian Safety)

The directive calls for an extra space between the exterior surface and the underhood structure from the front bumper to the windshield. The 8-in. (20-cm) gap is expected to reduce the severity of pedestrian injuries by better dispersing the impact energy of a person striking an automobile’s front-end exterior surface.

The legislation also calls for all new passenger cars and light vans to pass two tests to meet requirements for protecting pedestrians from head and leg injuries in frontal impacts.

The tests will cover impacts involving the A-pillar, front bumper, the hood’s leading edge and outer structure and the windshield. A second phase, starting in 2010, will call for four tests of increased severity.

The strict regulations are preventing some U.S. auto makers from selling new models in the European market, including General Motors Corp.’s ’06 Pontiac Solstice roadster. (See related story: Regs Rule Out Solstice for Europe)

"We understand that all these measures are extremely important to improve the safety of drivers and passengers,” Ford’s Putnam says. “But at the same time, the combined impact of these measures is not taken into account, any more than the cost.”

Putnam says it is unlikely the industry will be able to avoid passing the increase on to consumers. “There are huge initiatives going on to cut costs, but margins in the industry are very thin, and there is a limit to the amount of cost you can take out.”

– with Ward’s Staff