It’s all because of President Lyndon B. Johnson & the chicken fiasco. Yeah – you read that right. And you’re probably wondering what a former US President or chickens have to do with anything SPEED • STYLE • SOUND related. Well allow me to expand. Have you ever heard of The Chicken Tax?  

In the early 1960s, amidst Cold War economic battles… 

An unusual trade battle took flight. It was one that didn’t involve advanced technology, oil, ammunition, or precious minerals… but rather, poultry. Yes… chickens. The European Economic Community (EEC), led by France & West Germany at the time, imposed tariffs on US-sourced chicken. Reason being: At that time, American chicken was cheaper, it was flooding European markets & threatening local European farmers.

The EEC’s tariff in turn hurt the American farmer, forcing President Lyndon B. Johnson to retaliate in a peculiar, yet impactful manner. In 1964, in an effort to protect American interests while sending a clear message to Europe, President Johnson implemented a 25% tariff on potato starch, dextrin, brandy, and most notably… 2-seater light trucks, vans, & cargo vehicles. It was called The Chicken Tax. 

the chicken tax

Why in the world were light-duty trucks included in The Chicken Tax? 

Well in an unrelated nutshell, Volkswagen was having tremendous success in America with their economical Beetle & Bus. As you can imagine, the post WWII American automotive industry did not like being 1-upped by Germany in any way. And the United Auto Workers (UAW) union was threatening to strike during an election year. Connect the dots, and you can see the political pressure was heavy on Lyndon B. Johnson. Therefore, ‘certain vehicles’ got lumped into The Chicken Tax. The name, while humorous, underscores the bizarre origins of this significant policy. A policy which didn’t just pertain to German vehicles exclusively, but ALL imported 2-seater trucks, vans, and cargo/commercial vehicles that were American-bound from any country. 

Fast-forward to today, and The Chicken Tax is still in effect… 

Only today, it really just impacts the automotive industry. It’s the reason why many foreign light trucks & commercial vans are still scarce and/or significantly more expensive on US soil. 

Over the decades, international auto manufacturers have gone to great lengths to circumvent The Chicken Tax, including disassembling vehicles before shipping them to the US, and reassembling them stateside. It’s a process known as ‘knock-down kits.’ Bottom line: The Chicken Tax is why small, simplistic, affordable imported trucks & vans cannot break into the American market.

It’s also the reason for peculiar light truck oddities, 1) like the Subaru BRAT’s bed-mounted jump seats. Or 2) how some Toyota pickups were imported without beds at all, and had American-made beds attached once they arrived. Side note: That also solves the mystery of why you see some of the old mid-80’s Toyota trucks with different degrees of paint-fade on the bed vs cab.

Today, suffice it to say, The Chicken Tax is an underlying reason why truck prices are expensive & unchecked here in America… and why there’s nearly a complete void of economical, light-duty options. 

from Japanese Nostalgic Car

The implications of President Johnson’s decision extend far beyond the initial poultry dispute…

They’ve influenced automotive industry practices, and even consumer choice across decades. It’s a testament to how diplomatic policies can have long-lasting, unforeseen global ramifications. And it’s a reminder that we should approach policy with careful caution, and always be learning from history. So the next time you lament the absence of certain light-duty foreign trucks or commercial vehicles on American roads, you can blame Lyndon B. Johnson & the chickens.

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