International trade regulations in the Automotive sector

Type approval of whole vehicles and automotive components

Within Europe there are two possible systems of type approval. One is based around EC Directives and provides for the approval of whole vehicles, vehicle systems, and separate components. The other is based around United Nations Economic Community for Europe regulations and provides for approval of vehicle systems and separate components, but not whole vehicles.

European Community Whole Vehicle Type Approval (EC WVTA)

EC WVTA is to ensure that new vehicles are safe to use on the road and have a lower impact on the environment, without having to inspect and test every single one. Businesses that manufacture, build, convert or sell passenger vehicles, commercial vehicles or trailers may also require type approval.

EC WVTA has created a single European market in trucks, buses and trailers.

You must submit any new vehicle made, adapted or imported for sale in the UK or the European Union (EU) to the approval authority for whole vehicle approval in a member state before you can sell it anywhere in the EU. However, once a vehicle has approval in any one member state, it will apply to all vehicles of that type throughout the EU.

Find essential type approval certification requirements information.

Important: Read the latest UK government guidance on what UK vehicle and component manufacturers will need to do to show they meet safety and environmental standards after the UK leaves the EU.

The UK's four-track type approval system

Approval title Application criteria Scope and benefits
EC WVTA Manufacturers of vehicles and bodywork producing large numbers of the same vehicle type or product each year. It can be applied to a design of chassis, design of body or a complete vehicle. There is no upper limit on quantity. It allows the manufacturer to sell the product in any EU market without needing additional national tests in another EU member state.
ECSSTA - EC Small Series Type Approval Smaller manufacturers producing up to 1,000 passenger cars per type each year. It allows sales anywhere in the EU but has technical and administrative requirements adapted to smaller businesses.
NSSTA - National Small Series Type Approval A UK national scheme for low volume manufacturers who intend to sell only in the UK. It is limited to the production of between 75 and 500 vehicles produced per type per year, subject to the category of vehicle. A reduced Conformity of Production (CoP) requirement, and fewer administrative requirements. Once the design is approved, individual vehicles do not need to be tested.
IVA - Individual Vehicle Approval A UK national scheme intended for those manufacturing or importing single vehicles or very small numbers from third (non-EU) countries when there is no European vehicle type approval. These vehicles must be inspected by the Vehicle and Operator Services Agency in Great Britain. There is no CoP requirement, but most bodybuilders and converters will work with manufacturers to ensure there is no warranty compromise. Approval is individual.

Key points to consider when planning your type approval application

  • To achieve type approval for a new model of vehicle you must first apply to the VCA in the UK or the equivalent body in another member state for an assessment of your production processes and other tests to determine that you have quality management standards in place.
  • Once you are awarded type approval for a vehicle you manufacture, you will be solely responsible for ensuring CoP remains valid for all vehicles you produce under that approval. You will then be able to issue a Certificate of Conformity for each vehicle of that type you produce.
  • You must have separate type approval for certain components, where previously it was optional. Items like engines, lights, tyres, mirrors and glass all have to have their own approvals. The installation of the equipment is covered by EC WVTA.
  • The UK national approval schemes will not be accepted automatically by other EU member states. Producers who want to export products with national certification will have to apply directly to the type approval authority in the country to which they wish to export. There are however processes in place to facilitate the mutual recognition of national type approvals.

United Nations Economic Community for Europe (UN ECE) regulation

Vehicle manufacturers increasingly opt for type approval through the global technical harmonisation of regulations relating to motor vehicles under the UN/ECE 1958 and 1998 agreements. This is because UN ECE approval allows access to markets outside the EU - eg Russia, South Africa and Japan. This trend made a number of EC Directives in the parallel vehicle type approval system redundant.

The EU is simplifying and harmonising requirements to facilitate the individual approval of vehicles imported from and exported to third countries. The intention is to establish a process for promoting the development of global technical regulations ensuring high levels of safety, environmental protection, energy efficiency and anti-theft performance of wheeled vehicles, equipment and parts which can be fitted and/or be used on wheeled vehicles.

When exporting, you need to consider which safety, construction and use regulations you need to comply with. These could cover the complete manufactured vehicle and/or any number of its component parts. Many countries and trading blocs have their own specific requirements for vehicles and components.

When importing, you will need to check that vehicles and automotive components and sub-assemblies comply with UK legislation as all goods imported into the UK must comply with domestic business standards, including health and safety legislation.