When’s a van a van and when’s it a car?

Have you heard the one about the chicken and the van?

As a way to get around a 55-year-old 25% tariff on the import of vans or light trucks into the US, carmaker Ford takes a novel approach.

Ford may be an American company, but it makes its smallest van, the Transit Connect, in Spain, exporting tens of thousands of them to the US every year.

To dodge the tariff Ford fits rear seats and windows to the vans going to the US, only to then remove both once they have gone through customs. The makeover from nominal car (just 2.5% import tariff) to van is said to take two-and-a-half hours per vehicle.

The practice has saved Ford $250m (£190m) since the van was debuted in 2002, according to an estimate by US Customs and Border Protection.

The tariff on vans is colloquially known as the “chicken tax”. While this may seem bizarre, it takes its informal name from the fact it was introduced in 1963 in retaliation for the then-European Economic Community (the precursor to today’s European Union) bringing in a tax on US poultry imports.

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