The Big Three make high-quality, fuel-efficient cars. No, really, they do. They just sell them in Europe — Ford Ka, anyone?

And now that $15 billion of the the $25 billion designated in the 2007 energy bill to provide funds for fuel-efficiency retooling will likely serve as loan guarantees to keep GM and Chrysler solvent, where will domestic fuel-efficient cars come from?

Christian Edstrom at the New York Times blog Wheels suggests the Big Three bring some of those fuel-sipping European models to the U.S., and that the feds make it easy for the auto industry by temporarily green-lighting models that have met European standards:

The automakers’ reluctance to sell those cars in the United States is not as simple as the cars’ inability to meet United States standards for equipment, safety and exhaust emissions; there’s also the cost involved in the certification process. Changing the law to allow the United States sale of cars compliant with European emissions and crash standards, even for just a few years, would allow G.M. and Ford to quickly add some of their popular, high-mileage European models to their lineups here in America.

Main differences [PDF] between U.S. and E.U. standards? Variations on crash-test procedures, airbags, emissions standards — different cycles to measure nitrogen-oxides and particulate matter, English-unit meters, and headlights amongst a few others.

Build European cars in the U.S.? Sounds crazy, but it just might temper an auto-wary public, plus adds Edstrom, "allowing the sale of cars compliant with European standards, at least for a few years, would reduce the enormous costs of emissions testing and crash testing new models for the United States market."

But I would agree with CBG in the comments: If the Big Three were to actually import these cars from Europe, the feds should go one step further and ease import tariffs in order to make this venture affordable for consumers and industry alike.