By Mark Vaughn, Crain News Service
WASHINGTON (Dec. 8, 2015) — Cobra makers, rejoice! You no longer have to meet federal safety standards!
In addition to all that stuff about rebuilding highway bridges and paving over potholes, a provision of the just-passed Motor Vehicle Safety Act exempts low-volume car makers from crash-test standards. That means no more expensive finite element analysis and high-speed scientific crash testing. Just create the shape you want — usually a ‘65 Cobra or a ‘32 Ford — slap an engine in it and voila, you're a car maker, albeit a low-volume one.
Various legislators have pushed for something like this for years, including former U.S. Representative John Campbell of Orange County, Calif. In June Rep. Markwayne Mullin (R-Okla.) and Rep. Gene Green (D-Texas) introduced the “Low Volume Motor Vehicle Manufacturers Act of 2015,” legislation that the Specialty Equipment Market Association (SEMA) points out it had pursued since 2011. The act received strong bipartisan support and was inserted into the just-signed highway bill. When that legislation passed last week, it became law, meaning low-volume car manufacturers can produce turnkey replica vehicles for customers nationwide, SEMA said.
The rejoicing within the industry was immediate.
“The Low Volume Manufacturers Bill will have a massive influence on our industry and all the small manufacturers that make parts for our industry; it will create jobs across the board,” said Lance Stander of Superformance.
“This new law is significantly important to niche car builders,” said Jonathan Ward, owner of ICON 4x4 in Southern California, whose company makes all kinds of really cool cars and SUVs and will be able to make even more now. “It will allow us to have ever more scalable business models, which in turn will allow us to invest further in high-quality engineering and product design.”
Specifically, the law allows small-volume auto makers to construct up to 325 replica cars a year subject to federal regulatory oversight, SEMA said in a statement. “Replica cars resemble production vehicles manufactured at least 25 years ago. The U.S. currently has just one system for regulating automobiles, which was established in the 1960s and designed for companies that mass-produce millions of vehicles. The law recognizes the unique challenges faced by companies that produce a small number of custom cars.”
Not all those challenges are covered in the new bill. Engines powering the cars still have to meet emissions standards, which at the moment means using GM engines.
“The biggest limitation I see in the near-term, is the fact that there is only one class of engines available from General Motors that will be compliant with this law,” Mr. Ward said. “All of us in this community are hoping that Ford, Mopar and others will follow suit, developing crate- and emissions-certified engines to enhance our options.”
According to SEMA, the measure establishes a separate regulatory structure within the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) for replica car manufacturers.
The companies are required to register with NHTSA and EPA and submit annual reports on the vehicles they produce. The vehicles are required to meet current model-year emissions standards, although companies are permitted to install engines from other EPA-certified vehicles to help achieve that requirement.
“This law's really a combination of existing regulations,” Mr. Ward pointed out. “The big difference is now professional entities can pursue the venture, whereas the previous laws were limited to homebuilt vehicles. The results should be that safer and more thoroughly engineered vehicles get produced.”
“With this new law, Congress has demonstrated that it understands the importance of enabling U.S. companies to produce classic-themed vehicles that are virtually impossible to build under the current one-size-fits-all regulatory framework,” said SEMA president and CEO Chris Kersting. “This program will create auto-sector jobs and meet consumer demand for cars that help preserve our American heritage.”
“This law gives enthusiasts the opportunity to buy turnkey replica cars while preserving their option to build one from a kit,” said Doug Evans, SEMA board chairman. “It recognizes the unique circumstances associated with limited production replica vehicles, such as the ‘32 Roadster and ‘65 Cobra….
“With enactment of this new law, kit car companies and SEMA member companies that supply equipment and components can take advantage of this unique opportunity.”
So start building!
This report appeared on the website of Autoweek magazine, a Detroit-based sister publication of Tire Business.