NHTSA finally releases regulations, opening door to road-legal historic replica cars

New Morgan roadster
Morgan Roadster Morgan Motor Company

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has finally completed regulations that permit low-volume motor vehicle manufacturers to begin selling replica cars. The Low Volume Motor Vehicle Manufacturers Act, which then-President Barack Obama signed into law in 2015, allows the manufacture and sale of cars that resemble vehicles produced at least 25 years ago. It was delayed while awaiting the NHTSA regulations; the original deadline was set for December 4, 2016.

In October 2019, the Specialty Equipment Market Association (SEMA) ran out of patience and filed suit with the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in California, asking the court to compel the NHTSA to act. In December 2019, the government agency did exactly that. Thirteen months later, replica car businesses will be allowed to construct up to 325 reproduction cars per year (subject to federal regulatory oversight).

SEMA President and CEO Christopher J. Kersting applauded the long overdue move. “Regulatory barriers have previously prevented small automakers from producing heritage cars for eager customers,” Kersting said in a press release. “The roadblocks have been eliminated. Companies will be able to hire workers, start making necessary parts and components, and produce and sell cars.”

Prior to the Low Volume Motor Vehicle Manufacturers Act, the U.S. had just one system for regulating automobiles, which was designed for companies that mass-produce millions of vehicles. The new program recognizes the unique challenges faced by companies that produce a small number of custom cars.

According to the NHTSA, the vehicles are required to meet current model year emissions standards. The regulation does not take effect until it is officially published in the Federal Register. Low-volume vehicle manufacturers will then be required to register with NHTSA, EPA, and CARB before selling vehicles and thereafter submit annual reports on vehicle productions.

Enthusiasts still have the option to build a car from a kit or create their own home-built replicas, but soon they may also purchase a turn-key replica car.

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