IT IS safe to say the folks at the automotive policy and planning unit of the Land Transport Authority (LTA) won't be head-hunted by Apple anytime soon –- if only because the American company's core philosophy of elegant simplicity would be lost on them.
Witness the tangled web that is the certificate of entitlement (COE) system and how it has become even more complicated since February, when a power limit of 130 hp was adopted for the small-car category of COEs (that is, for cars with 1,600 cc engines or smaller).
The cap was added to the 24-year-old scheme that auctions off various categories of vehicle registration licences for social equity reasons – to ensure that Category A better serves mass-market car buyers, after worrying numbers of luxury models invaded Cat A in recent years, cornering the less expensive COEs.
While the objective is thoroughly noble, the result has been less so, both for consumers and distributors.
For distributors, the homologation process (for approving cars before they go on sale) that once took a maximum of three weeks is now anywhere from 2-4 months; there is no certainty on exactly how long it will take.
For consumers, the delay means the new model they were eyeing may not arrive in time to replace their ageing rides; they may have to settle for something older and less advanced – even though they are already paying 3-4 times more than what that same car costs in another country.
But why has the approval process been extended in the first place? One amusing rumour is that LTA hopes to suppress new car demand and hence keep COE prices down.
The simple reason, though, is that car distributors will presumably try and circumvent the 130 hp rule. So, to thwart this, each new model will be tested on a dynamometer.
This is a device for measuring power and torque, but many are concerned because they do not know which make and model LTA has chosen. Different dynos have different baselines and will produce varying results. Then there is also a difference between dynamometers for front-wheel-drive, rear-wheel- drive and all-wheel-drive cars.
LTA has, however, given the assurance that a "correction factor" will be applied to the power figure measured at the wheels.
But the experts say that the correction factor varies according to different power trains. There is no internationally recognised correction factor or range of factors. So the question is: will LTA apply more than one correction factor, and how will it be determined for each car?
The choice of a 130 hp limit to distinguish between a Cat A and Cat B car is already a unique standard, and it is noteworthy for having been adopted by the government agency of a non-vehicle manufacturing country. But to attempt to test each new model to ensure its conformity to this new rule may require a deeper understanding of engine-manufacturing technology.
Because even though an engine leaves a factory with a certain horsepower specification, the actual output recorded on a dyno will also vary according to the air pressure in the tyres and atmosphere, the type of engine lubrication used and the varying tolerance of each engine component.
That is why manufacturers usually quote a more conservative power rating to account for these factors.
If testing yields different results, bitter arguments may ensue - resulting in even more confusion and further delays in the approval process.
For some, the COE quota system before February may have been unwieldy for its many rules and changes. But now, it seems the system has veered into a black hole with everyone in the dark about what is happening, except LTA.
Those in the industry who had wanted LTA to apply the open market value (OMV) of a vehicle as a COE benchmark have been repeatedly given the rationale for the power-limit rule. But even if they accept the explanation, something must be wrong if a system becomes unnecessarily complex - or, worse, opaque.