The passage of the Low Volume Motor Vehicle Manufacturers Act was supposed to simplify and streamline legislation that deals with low-volume car manufacturers, exempting builders of "replica" cars from a number of demands applied to much larger automakers. But two years since its passage, the complete legislative framework has stalled due to agency delays and inaction, Hemmings reports.
Specifically, the law would have allowed small automakers making less than 325 vehicles per year to install complete drivetrains in their vehicles and to forego emissions and crash testing processes that apply to large automakers. But a couple pieces of this law have effectively stalled its implementation. One restriction created by this law, Hemmings notes, was to mandate the use of EPA- or CARB-certified engines beginning in 2017, while another provision directed the EPA and the California Air Resources Board (CARB) to issue additional regulatory guidelines to low-volume automakers.
One problem with this approach, as Hemmings points out, is that it's far easier for low-volume automakers to use engines exempted by CARB rather than EPA- or CARB-certified engines. But there's only one, and that's GM's LS3 crate engine. The second problem, a much more pressing one for these automakers, is that CARB's exemption applies to vehicles rather than manufacturers. Another related issue, one that is essentially holding up all low-volume automakers, is that while the EPA has issued draft guidelines for automakers, the NHTSA has been too swamped with other issues such as autonomous cars.
For low-volume automakers, this means costly delays as production stands still and suppliers who become skittish of dealing with them. The delays haven't killed any manufacturers' plans to produce lines of replica vehicles outright, at least for now, but they've shifted them to the back burner for many small producers. At least one manufacturer facing NHTSA delays has decided to pursue low-volume manufacturer status in the European Union, while others, including a company that intends to revive the Checker brand, have opted to wait for word from the NHTSA.
Why is the NHTSA holding up an entire cottage industry? Hemmings has found that not only do some key posts at the NHTSA remain unfilled by the current administration, but the agency is juggling several other major projects, including autonomous car rules and air bag recalls.
"The NHTSA has a lot on their plate –- they’re still dealing with the airbag issue and now autonomous cars –- so we certainly don’t fault them," Jim Espey, vice president of the DeLorean Motor Co. told Hemmings. "The people at the NHTSA are just as frustrated as us, and they realize we’re in this position, but their hands are tied as much as ours are."