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Low-Volume Makers Could Get Break

New bill would reduce regulatory burden.

by on Oct.31, 2011

The new rules could make it easier for products like the Pagani Huayra to reach U.S. showrooms.

When Lotus pulled the Elise out of the U.S. market at the end of the 2011 model-year it said it had no choice because it couldn’t meet strict new government safety mandates.

The British marque isn’t alone.  A number of low-volume manufacturers have struggled to keep up with ever-tightening American safety and emissions standards.  But they could be in for a break – along with buyers who’d like to get hold of some of their limited-edition offerings – thanks to what has been dubbed the “Low Volume Motor Vehicle Manufacturer’s Act.”

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The proposal, introduced by California Congressman John Campbell, is specifically aimed at helping out manufacturers who produce fewer than 1,000 vehicles annually, a figure that includes the likes of Lotus, Sweden’s Koenigsegg and Italy’s Pagani – whose 700-horsepower Huayra supercar has been at least temporarily delayed because it doesn’t feature the multi-stage airbags mandated by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

Campbell, a Republican, has garnered some rare bipartisan support for his measure – which would take several steps to ease the burden on boutique manufacturers.

Among other things, if they were using an engine already certified by another manufacturer – possibly including the Toyota engine in the Lotus Elise – specialty makers could apply for a waiver from the Environmental Protection Administration exempting them from conducting their own costly certification procedures.

The sponsors suggest this would be particularly helpful for companies producing replica street rods, customs and sports cars.

Formally introduced as H.R. 3274, the measure also would toss a bone to environmentalists who might object to that escape clause.  The bill would also reduce the burden on start-ups like a Fisker or Tesla or Aptera as they introduce new battery-based powertrain technologies.

And the National Highway Traffic Administration would be required, along with the EPA, to set up an office specifically aimed at working with low-volume manufacturers seeking to work through federal mandates.

“Rep. Campbell’s bill will allow U.S. companies to produce safe, clean, one-of-a-kind vehicles that are virtually impossible to build under today’s one-size-fits-all regulatory framework,” said Chris Kersting, the President and CEO of the aftermarket trade group SEMA. “This program will create skilled-labor jobs in the auto industry and help meet consumer demand for these niche vehicles.”

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