Historic Ruling From NHTSA Over Replica Car Manufacturing

For years specialty vehicle manufacturers have been lobbying for approval from the National Highway Traffic and Safety Administration to do low-volume production of replica vehicles. The Specialty Equipment Marketing Association has been using all of its efforts to lobby congress and anyone who will listen. Now, after all of the effort put behind it, the NHTSA has approved the Low Volume Motor Vehicle Manufacturers Act. 

What is the Low Volume Act?

DeLoreans lined up
DeLoreans lined up in Huntington Beach, California | Getty

The LVMVMA allows for the construction of 325 replica cars per year. And the range of vehicles is virtually unlimited. Hot rods, mid-sixties muscle cars, Ford GT 40 replicas; are all eligible under this act. 

Some laws will still apply, but not like the tens of thousands of regulations traditional automakers must follow. Emission regulations will still be necessary, too. And all of the low-volume manufacturers must register with the NHTSA, EPA, and California Air Resource Board. 

Why has it taken so long to manufacture replica cars?

The red-and-gold 1966 Ford GT40 Mk I Lightweight 'AM GT-1'
1966 Ford GT40 Mk I Lightweight ‘AM GT-1’

This new act was actually passed back in 2015. It was part of President Obama’s Fixing America Surface Transportation Act. But it has taken all of this time for it to finally make its way into law. Partially due to a lack of infrastructure funding packages being advanced, it was left dormant by the Trump administration. 

One company, DeLorean Motors, has had plans to continue series production of the famous gull-wing car held up for years. It has subsisted on selling DeLorean restoration parts and restoring some cars themselves, while production remains in limbo due to the holdup of the act. It began gearing up for production soon after the approval of the act. 

SEMA forced the replica car issue with a lawsuit

Movie DeLorean
Actor Christopher Lloyd arrives in a DeLorean car at Universal Studios | Getty

Implementing laws and restrictions for the Low Volume Act rested with the NHTSA. No funding and no permanent head administrator for the agency was selected during the Trump presidency. The acting head had no authority to implement the act After a lawsuit was filed by SEMA against the agency, the 120-page Low Volume Act rules had been completed and were finally released to the Federal Registry 

As an aside, DeLorean Motors plans on manufacturing an all-electric version of the original through an agreement with Karma Motors in Irvine, California. Karma is the remnants of the ill-fated first Fisker Motors. But this car, being electric, doesn’t fit the parameters of the Low Volume Production act. 

You can still construct your own kit car

Replica Cobra
Cobra kit car | Getty

If you would rather construct a kit car yourself, then this new act doesn’t apply to you. You can legally build your own car, but it still must comply with a minimum of requirements. Those include headlight height, windshield wipers, stop lights, side view mirrors, etc. 

As we transition to electric powertrains, some of this may be moot. At least the emissions requirements. Still, it is a historic win for replica car makers and the aftermarket. And also for SEMA, which had a big hand in the Low Volume Act originally, as well as the subsequent lawsuit against the NHTSA. The exciting part is that the act should also open the door for some vehicles that have been in the planning stages for years.

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