- Earlier this month, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) issued a final ruling for Low Volume Vehicle Manufacturers.
- It’s not official yet, but when it is, companies such as DeLorean and Superformance will be able to sell finished, turnkey replica cars in the U.S.
- Replica makers must apply for approval from the NHTSA, EPA, and CARB, and U.S. sales will be capped at 325 units per year.
On January 15, in the waning days of the Trump administration and roughly four years after it was expected, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) finalized a 102-page ruling that will permit the production of turnkey replica cars from companies including the new DeLorean Motor Company (DMC).
The ruling will allow Low Volume Vehicle Manufacturers (LVVM) to build and sell up to 325 units of replica cars per year in the United States. That means DMC—same name, new company—can get back to work on its version of the updated DMC-12. Superformance—which provided the Cobras in Ford vs. Ferrari—will be able to sell complete Cobras and Daytona coupes. And Morgan can bring its vintage wares to our shores already built and ready to drive.
That is, as soon as the rule is published in the Federal Register, the last step toward making a regulation official. There was hope that could happen within a week, but Wednesday evening, in the first hours of the Biden administration, a regulatory freeze went into effect giving new agency heads a chance to review work in progress.
“The people I am talking to are not sure if we are talking days or weeks but not likely months,” Stuart Gosswein, the senior director of federal government affairs for the SEMA aftermarket trade group, told us.
Congress originally instructed NHTSA to finalize the rules by the end of 2016, but it wasn’t until January 2020 that the agency finally issued a 118-page proposed ruling. NHTSA went silent after that. In November, when we spoke to DMC and SEMA about the delay, both shrugged. They never knew what had happened or when something might be done.
It’s equally mystifying why NHTSA finally moved the process forward, but no one is complaining. In a release, SEMA president and CEO Christopher J. Kersting said: “The roadblocks have been eliminated. Companies will be able to hire workers, start making necessary parts and components, and produce and sell cars.”
The final draft addresses all of the points in the earlier proposal that SEMA and replica-car makers took issue with, such as agreeing to let courts handle intellectual property disputes. NHTSA also agreed to a 10 percent variance in vehicle dimensions, and replicas don’t need to be exact clones of the original down to moldings and trim pieces. Only engines with current EPA approval can be used, but lighting, window glazing, and certain seat belt provisions will be covered under the federal motor vehicle standards in effect at the time the original vehicle was produced.
Gosswein said LVVMs will need to register with NHTSA, the EPA, and, if they wish to sell cars in California, the California Air Resources Board (CARB). After submitting information and a picture of the original and replica vehicles to NHTSA, the agency has 90 days to review the application. If there are no complaints, the manufacturer can start the production lines at the end of those 90 days. Before Wednesday’s regulatory hold, that could have meant some new replicas on the streets as soon as May.
Not so with a new DMC-12, however. Company vice president James Espey told Car and Driver that DMC doesn’t plan on submitting its paperwork to the two federal agencies and California until it has finalized the powertrain and financing for the new stainless-steel coupe. The engine the company planned for four years ago runs out of emissions compliance in 2024. He’s not sure it makes sense to use a motor so close to the end of its life. DMC could also go electric. “We have to consider all the things available now that weren’t on the table five years ago,” Espey said.
Espey said the company needs to go over the new ruling with its engineering team in the U.K., find a way forward with its planned engine supplier and sort out approvals, and line up between $5 million and $10 million to complete development and begin production. So a new DeLorean is optimistically still at least 18 months away.
SEMA to Focus on Powertrains
SEMA’s Gosswein said that since NHTSA has done its job, SEMA will turn its efforts to powertrains. “We need to get engine companies to produce engine packages or work with big manufacturers so that [LVVMs] can collaborate.”
SEMA doesn’t want to see replica makers forced into producing their own EPA-compliant engines because OEMs and engine suppliers decline to invest the time and money necessary to provide suitable units. SEMA wants to create a replica-engine ecosystem ensuring a variety of makes and sizes are available.
For instance, “GM had an LS3 engine package from 2012 that was for specially constructed vehicles in California,” Gosswein said. The approval for the LS3 package lapsed, but “that’s something GM can update for the current model year and get CARB to recertify.”
In the meantime, DMC has big plans for this year. January 21 marked the 40th anniversary of the final assembly of the original DMC-12. Considering the DMC-12’s continued brand recognition, Espey is confident we’ll get the gullwinged wonder we’ve been hoping for. He said he continues to get a few messages a week from potential buyers asking if they can send deposits.
“I still think the brand has a lot of power,” he said. “We’re open to talking to suppliers, investors, and others because there’s a lot of demand, and I don’t think having to wait a year or a year and a half is going to put a lot of people off.”
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