Industry Regulation: Reaching the Breaking Point

This is Part 2 of a three-part feature examining the topic of industry regulation within the automotive industry. Who it affects, how it has changed over the years, and if it’s gone too far are just a few of the questions we’ll be exploring. Click here to get caught up with Part 1. And be sure to check back for Part 3 as the discussion unfolds.

Learn Your Audience

As we stated in our previous piece, you’d be hard-pressed to find an auto enthusiast who didn’t support some form of industry regulation. They want a safe environment to pursue their hobby. But recently we’ve seen companies get slapped with enormous federal fines and lawsuits for breaking the rules. And stricter regulations are being placed on safety and performance standards, affecting motorsports and hobbies. So, are we setting the bar too high? Or are the auto manufacturers and enthusiasts just not keeping up their end of the bargain?

“I’m a big believer in people being able to enjoy their vehicles, as long as they’re doing it safely,” said Steve Wolcott, President and CEO of ProMedia, Inc. “A lot of the regulations that are put out there, I think are done by lawmakers who don’t really understand our industry. They don’t understand how people enjoy their cars and trucks, whether it’s on the drag strip or off-roading, until they go out and see what a family-friendly motorsport it is. That it’s a community of good people, just like they are. People who clean up when they’re done. And who aren’t destroying natural habitats for wildlife. They’re hardworking Americans who choose motorsports over a bass boat or a timeshare in Orlando. This is what they love to do. I think that the key to good legislation is protecting delicate resources, because nobody wants to destroy the environment, but allowing people to enjoy their hobbies and their passions as well,” continued Wolcott.

Poking the Bear

Industry professionals and motorsports enthusiasts, who have continually abided by safety and environmental standards, are lobbying in Washington right now to preserve a beloved tradition. As many readers know, in 2015 the EPA reinterpreted the Clean Air Act of 1970. They stated that it would be illegal to convert any motor vehicle into a racecar if the emissions system was modified or removed. The ruling was taken out of the 629-page proposal that it was quietly tucked into. But that hasn’t stopped the agency from insisting it has enforcement authority over the matter. Thankfully, SEMA has had some success in combating the issue. They’ve proposed their own legislation—the Recognizing the Protection of Motorsports (RPM) Act. Its goal is to establish legal clarity on the issues. As well as protect dedicated and hardworking individuals from seeing their passion wiped out by the quick swipe of a pen.

Feeling the Squeeze

While the RPM Act’s sustained momentum is encouraging, automotive and aftermarket professionals feel they continue to struggle with tighter and more stringent restrictions by government agencies.

“Here in California they continually tighten the emissions standards for older vehicles that are 1976 and later. They’re effectively trying to get them off the roads because they failed to meet emissions levels they were never designed for in the first place,” said August Cederstrand of Edelbrock. “This in turn has created an entire underground illegal smog-testing industry that just passes cars for money, rather than making them emissions-compliant. [Additionally], as we’ve seen with VW and GM’s Duramax scandals, even when emissions tests are done, they can be thwarted by computers. And not only do cars have to pass tailpipe emissions, they also have to pass the visual test which means zero modifications unless they are CARB E.O. certified. I have a 1987 Ford F350 truck I can make far more environmentally friendly while greatly increasing its power and efficiency. But the State of California emissions rule forbids this—how does that help air quality?” continued Cederstrand.

Similarly, Carlos Molina of Projekt Cars, based out of El Paso, says that “there are many ‘tuners’ who circumvent the system to obtain a registration in Texas by registering their vehicles in New Mexico.” Molina understands the regulations on emissions but wonders how far they need to go. And he worries that this is a sign that the world of vehicle modification may start dwindling.

“What level of strict scrutiny will we be subjected to in the future? Are we just scratching the surface by focusing on vehicle emissions? And, [if so], shouldn’t we look closer at manufacturing as a whole— all the factory waste and byproduct? And as automakers push to obtain congressional approval for their vehicles to be made proprietary information, [and therefore not permissible for legal modification], will modifiers become the outlaws in the future?”

Taking It Too Far?

The strides made in safety features alone, like the Hellwig Products seatbelts example in Part 1 of this feature, are a testament to setting standards and accountability practices. But as more instances of blatant overreach and a startling lack of transparency are being discovered among government entities, it’s fair to question if watchdog groups are crossing the line into over-regulation territory as a means to justify their own existence within the federal budget.

So what do you think? Are government agencies taking it too far? Or is this regulation a result of industry shortcomings?

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