The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) is seeking public comments on a draft "best practices" for importers. The guidelines are intended to reduce the likelihood that imported automobiles and auto parts may contain safety defects or not comply with federal safety standards. NHTSA joins a number of federal government agencies that are pursuing the same initiative for other types of consumer products, from toys to pet food and pharmaceuticals. The goal is to compile useful advice when a company outsources its products. NHTSA's draft guidelines include the following key recommendations:

  • Fully understand the importer's obligations under motor-vehicle safety statutes and regulations. By definition, importers are considered to be the product "manufacturer" and subject to the same oversight, including the potential obligation to conduct a recall if there is a safety defect or noncompliance.
  • Exercise great care in selecting foreign manufacturers and have a sound business plan so as to minimize risks. Issues to be addressed would include requiring manufacturing quality controls and documenting production information.
  • Inspect foreign manufacturing facilities to confirm that the supplier is properly licensed and quality controls are being implemented.
  • Inspect goods either before they are exported to or distributed in the United States. This could include having products independently tested to verify compliance.
  • Identify product country of origin. Statutes generally require every article of foreign origin (or its container) imported into the United States be marked with the country of origin.
  • Establish a consumer service program. An effective program could assist the importer in quickly identifying quality control and safety-related problems and allow the importer to remedy problems before they become widespread.
  • Contact NHTSA about manufacturer/importer reporting requirements, safety compliance and defect issues.

After it considers public comments, NHTSA intends to publish the final recommended best practices and post on its website. CLICK HERE for a copy of the draft proposal.

SEMA intends to submit comments which are due by August 7, 2008. Please contact Stuart Gosswein if you have suggestions or questions:

It is useful to note that SEMA published a two-part series in the December 2007 and February 2008 editions of SEMA News on the same topic. The article is entitled "Sourcing Your Products from China without Losing Your Shirt, Your Intellectual Property, or Your Customers" by Merritt R. Blakeslee of deKieffer & Horgan. Click on the links to download: