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Trump Administration Reverses Anti-Supercar Policy
New administration shows leniency on automotive rules not seen in the past eight years.

Lamborghini Murcielago
Federal regulators have had a chilly relationship with automobile enthusiasts over the past eight years. Last year, for example, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) proposed a rule that industry watchers warned would devastate the $36 billion automotive aftermarket. On Tuesday, NHTSA held out an olive branch by allowing the importation of supercars that would otherwise be banned on technicalities.

The agency gave a California-based importer formal permission to bring into the country 2010 Lamborghini Murcielagos that were manufactured for the European market. As part of the importation deal, the firm promises to complete all recalls, update the speedometer to work in miles per hour and execute the minor tweaks needed to bring the $354,000 vehicles up to the same standard as those that were made for the US market.

Such exemptions were once commonplace, with ten Ferrari model prior to 2009 receiving importation permission. During the Obama administration, however, exemptions slowed with limited permission being granted for two models. Under the Bush administration, the Lamborghini Murcielago and Gallardo both received an importation green light in 2008, but the Italian manufacturer was shut out after the administration changed hands.

Failure to obtain importation permission can result in armed federal agents showing up at your door. In 2014, the Department of Homeland Security raided an importer's facility and seized forty classic Land Rover SUVs that were in the process of being restored for US collectors. The vehicles were returned months later after the agencies involved failed to prove that the importer had done anything wrong.

The makers of performance automobiles likewise experienced harsh treatment between 2009 and the end of 2016. NHTSA, for example, forced British specialty car maker Lotus out of the US market by denying federal exemptions the company had enjoyed since the 1980s. For decades, models such as the Esprit and Elise could be legally sold, even though they did not have bumpers able to pass the 5 MPH bumper crash test requirement or headlights that conformed to US regulations.

Lotus was left with no cars it could sell stateside after NHTSA in 2013 refused to budge on the new "advanced" front airbag mandate, even though the Lotus Evora had been fully updated to meet federal bumper requirements and all other applicable standards. Lotus has now returned to the US market with the model year 2017 Evora, which has "advanced" airbags.

In 2014, NHTSA forced Ferrari to recall the $230,000 458 Italia and $300,000 FF models because the emergency front trunk release might fail under certain circumstances. This refers not to the system usually used to open the small luggage compartment, but the latch used, according to the recall notice, "to permit a child trapped inside the trunk to open the hood of the trunk to escape."

NHTSA also forced a recall of the Ferrari LaFerrari because the tire pressure warning system on the $1.5 million supercar was deemed inaccurate. None of the car's 85 owners ever filed a complaint about tire pressure monitoring or the trunk emergency release mechanism.

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