Case Study: A Win Today, But More Challenges on the Horizon
By Chris Kersting
One of our top priorities for 2021 is to reinforce the automotive specialty aftermarket’s presence in Washington, D.C., and state capitals around the country. We know regulatory activity will be on the rise, especially in light of recent federal elections. Success over the next few years will require dedicated effort along with support from the industry. With sustained effort, we can prevail.
Building relationships with legislators, their staffs and officials who implement policy is a long-term proposition. Perseverance is of critical importance and can yield important results for the industry. The value of persistence on Capitol Hill is apparent when we look at the Low Volume Motor Vehicle Manufacturers Act—a SEMA-led bill that became law in 2015 and only now, years later, is ready for implementation. The law allows low-volume auto manufacturers to produce completed replica vehicles (think classic roadsters and ’60s musclecars) under a streamlined regulatory structure, eliminating roadblocks that until now have prevented the production of turnkey heritage cars.
To get where we are today, SEMA worked closely with a core group of member companies to craft legislation introduced in Congress in 2011. A solid grassroots enthusiast campaign and media effort helped get the message across to legislators. The law was passed in 2015, but there were still details to be ironed out.
Two important steps were achieved when the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) issued guidelines regarding permissible engine packages, and the California Air Resources Board issued a regulation for certifying the vehicles and engine packages.
Meanwhile, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, having a duty to issue regulations to activate the law, moved at a much slower pace. It was ultimately necessary for SEMA to ask a federal court to intervene, and a lawsuit in 2019 helped spur issuance of proposed regulations in January 2020. Industry members suggested a few changes that were incorporated into the final rule issued in January 2021. That was almost a favorable ending, but the rule is now again on hold because it was not officially published in the Federal Register before the Biden Administration took office. Once that review is completed, SEMA expects that the rule will be officially published by spring. The details of the final rule are included on p. 32 of this issue.
Looking ahead, we can expect new legislation and regulatory challenges affecting our industry. We’ve seen broad pronouncements about the end of the internal-combustion engine, new safety technologies that threaten to lock out vehicle modifiers, and the still-present threat from the EPA claiming that it is illegal to convert an emissions-certified vehicle into a race car. SEMA and our race-friendly supporters in Congress will be reintroducing the RPM Act to address that last matter. And similar to the effort required for the Low Volume Manufacturers Act, we will need to be relentless with Congress until we get the legislation passed.
For the association’s part, the Board of Directors and staff are dedicating more resources to the cause. That means putting more resources into our Washington, D.C., offices and resources to help build grassroots networks to support our cause.
The foundation of SEMA’s grassroots program is the SEMA Action Network (SAN)—a nationwide partnership between SEMA, car clubs, enthusiasts and members of the specialty auto parts industry. It costs nothing to become a member of the SAN, and it’s an easy way for you to stay informed and help protect the hobby. Join the SAN at www.semasan.org/join.
Another critical tool to grow the industry’s voice is the SEMA Political Action Committee, which supports those in Congress who help our industry. It’s more important now than ever, so please visit www.semapac.org and contribute to the cause.
Thanks in advance for your involvement and assistance. Working together with perseverance and persistence, we can help the industry thrive, even in a challenging political climate.