LAS VEGAS — The Specialty Equipment Market Association (SEMA) has notified the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) it is prepared to challenge the agency in court if it fails to implement the low-volume replica car law.
Under a 2015 law spearheaded by SEMA, small vehicle makers (5,000 or fewer vehicles produced globally) may sell up to 325 turnkey replica cars — vehicles that resemble classic cars produced at least 25 years ago — per year in the U.S.
Under a provision in the Fixing America's Surface Transportation Act (FAST Act), NHTSA had one year — until Dec. 4, 2016 — to establish a process for companies to register with the agency and to issue any necessary regulation to implement the federal law. NHTSA has taken no regulatory action.
"Passage of the FAST Act in 2015 was a landmark moment since low volume auto manufacturers could now produce turn-key replica vehicles for customers nationwide," SEMA President and CEO Christopher Kersting said.
"While the law was celebrated by industry and enthusiasts alike, NHTSA's continued delays have frustrated replica car companies and consumers. The replica car provision was designed to be easy for NHTSA to implement, as it simply extends the common-sense approach to overseeing kit-car production that the agency has employed for decades."
Prior to enactment of the FAST Act, SEMA said, the U.S. had just one system for regulating automobiles, which was established in the 1960s and designed for companies that mass-produce millions of vehicles. The lack of regulatory flexibility has prevented small businesses from manufacturing turnkey cars that recapture America's automotive heritage. The vehicles will have engine packages that meet current model-year emissions standards.
The delay is creating financial hardship for small businesses committed to the program, SEMA said. Replica car companies began making investments in new facilities, equipment and supplies based on the one-year timeline to implement the law. Instead, workers have not been hired and sales are on hold because of NHTSA's inaction.
Hundreds of classic car enthusiasts sent letters in recent months asking U.S. Department of Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao to instruct NHTSA to stop dragging its feet.
Over the past three years, SEMA has suggested several ways to allow replica vehicle production to get off the ground, such as by allowing companies to register as the agency pursues a rulemaking. While NHTSA has failed to take advantage of the alternatives, it has inflicted harm on the industry through its inaction. SEMA is ready to ask the court to intervene and eliminate the harm.