Replica Car Law Provides
New Sales Opportunities

Stuart Gosswein

2015 will be remembered for many things.  For classic car enthusiasts, it represents the beginning of a new era for the kit car industry.  Thanks to the efforts of SEMA, along with PWA and other organizations and companies, Congress passed a bill that will permit small volume automobile manufacturers to produce turn-key replica vehicles for customers nationwide.  Signed by the president in December as part of the highway funding bill, the new law will create sales opportunities for companies throughout the supply chain and open new markets.  

Under the law, small automakers will each be able to construct and sell up to 325 turn-key replica vehicles in the U.S. and a total of 5,000 worldwide under a simplified regulatory system.  Replica cars resemble production vehicles manufactured at least 25 years ago, including most prominently 1930s-era hot rods and 1960s-era Cobras.  Previously, the U.S. maintained one system for regulating automobiles, which was established in the 1960s and designed for companies that mass-produced millions of vehicles.  The new law recognizes the unique challenges faced by companies that produce a small number of custom cars.

Companies looking to manufacture replica vehicles, will be required to register with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and submit annual reports on the vehicles they produce.  These automobiles are subject to certain NHTSA equipment standards (tires, lighting, glass, etc.) but not vehicle-based standards.  The vehicles will be required to meet current model year emissions standards and to achieve this requirement, companies will be permitted to install engine systems produced by the large automakers and certified by the EPA.

 “With this new law, Congress has demonstrated that it understands the importance of enabling U.S. companies to produce classic-themed vehicles that are virtually impossible to build under the current one-size-fits-all regulatory framework,” said SEMA President and CEO Chris Kersting.  “This program will create auto sector jobs and meet consumer demand for cars that help preserve our American heritage.”

Replica cars have been marketed for decades as “kit cars” where a manufacturer sells car parts, frequently assembled, and the buyer installs the engine/transmission.  While states have often regulated kit cars built by hobbyists by the model year they resemble, until now the federal government viewed a manufacturer-completed replica car to be a current model year vehicle.

The change in law is designed to complement the existing kit car industry, not eliminate it.  Hobbyists will still have the freedom to assemble their own vehicle if they prefer with the engine package of their choice.  The new law also expands the customer base of the replica market to include consumers who don’t have the time or inclination to build kit cars. 

“For PWA members, the new law represents an opportunity to sell and distribute products that are incorporated into the replica vehicles,” said Tracie Nunez, President of PWA.  “This change in law will allow the market to expand as enthusiasts learn that they can now purchase turn-key replica cars with a variety of options and equipment.”

Now that the bill has been enacted, SEMA is working with NHTSA and EPA to ensure that the accompanying regulations are written and implemented in a way that is favorable to companies looking to produce completed replica vehicles and their suppliers.  The agencies have until December 2016 to issue the regulations, and consumers should be able to begin purchasing the cars in 2017.   More information is available at