Emerging-market nations can be the most likely places to find the world's cheapest cars. The reason for this is that most industrialized nations require strict adherence to numerous emissions and safety standards. Complying with these rules adds to a car's price tag. On the other hand, countries like India and China are relatively free of strict environmental and safety standards. This could change, however. A recent study by NASA found that stricter emissions standards would benefit health, climate and agriculture around the world. In fact, if China, India and Brazil would adopt Euro 6 standards for vehicle emissions by 2015, NASA says the world's particulates could be reduced by about 85 percent [source: NASA Features].
China's use of cars and motorcycles has quadrupled in about a decade, which reflects a global trend. Just after World War II, there were 5 million cars on the world's roads, but today there are closer to 1 billion -- a number that likely will double in another 20 years [source: International Council on Clean Transportation].
Even once pressure forces countries to adopt standards for their auto emissions, one of the balances that car manufacturers abroad and in the United States have is the cost of complying with standards versus savings in fuel economy and other benefits. A report from the Center for Automotive Research regarding the future of the U.S. auto industry questioned whether the costs of complying with the standards were offset by the resulting fuel savings. The International Council on Clean Transportation disputed some of CAR's findings and methodologies [source: International Council on Clean Transportation].
This debate likely will continue in the U.S. and around the globe, and readers of various reports must remember that they often can reflect opinions or methodologies that support the stances of those doing the reporting. Even independent research must take into account other factors involved in manufacturing autos, such as labor and parts costs. What's more, comparing past and future costs always is difficult because of pricing and inflation. In Europe, many automakers balked at mandatory targets for fuel efficiency, but some reports said that cars emitted less harmful matter and still cost less when measured in real terms [source: Nichols]. In recent years, many emerging markets' technological bases have solidified and prospered, and a number of eco-friendly vehicles have been produced.
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