Sales of new classic cars and SUVs stalled in regulatory limbo

A change to U.S. law could open the door to a flood of companies building new versions of classic vehicles like the ’65 Ford Mustang, first-generation Ford Bronco, ’63 Chevy Corvette Stingray and ’60s-80s Toyota FJ Land Cruisers.

But first, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration must issue a regulation required by the law, which has been on the books for nearly four years. Businesspeople involved say that’s the only thing keeping a new industry from growing.

Nationwide, the law could create $120 million-$150 million a year in U.S. sales and several times that much from exports, according to the Specialty Equipment Market Association, which represents parts and vehicle makers for classic and modified cars, trucks and motorcycles.

Loosely referred to as the Replica Car Bill, the law was part of a package President Barack Obama signed into law on Dec. 4, 2015. The law called for the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and NHTSA to create regulations to guide companies making new versions of classic vehicles. The EPA did its part, signing off on engine, transmission and emissions packages that meet current standards and can be used in replica cars, said Stuart Gosswein, SEMA director of government affairs. SEMA is suing NHTSA to allow manufacturers to start making replica cars immediately.

Bringing a classic car into rough compliance with modern standards isn’t easy, but you can argue the EPA’s half of the process was simpler than NHTSA’s. Emissions standards are a measurable goal. Safety is a fuzzier concept.

“The customer for these vehicles knows what they’re buying and how it should be used,” Gosswein said. Essentially, SEMA believes the cars will be used occasionally by drivers who know what they’re getting into. A 45-year-old CPA on a Saturday jaunt in an $80,000 Stingray replica is less likely to drive like an idiot than a 16-year-old in a Hyundai Tiburon. Caveat emptor.

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