Dear Mr. Cox:
We are replying further to your petition for temporary exemption of the Mini passenger car from several Federal motor vehicle safety standards. I am sorry that it has taken some time to get back to you since my letter of November 4, 1996.
After considerable discussion within the agency, I am sorry to tell you that we have concluded that we cannot consider you a "manufacturer" within the meaning of the temporary exemption hardship regulations. This means that we cannot consider your petition.
As we understand the facts from the correspondence we have received from you since last summer, Monte Carlo Minis was established at the beginning of 1996, with you as the sole owner, for the purpose of importing and selling Rover Mini passenger cars that are not manufactured to conform to any motor vehicle regulations of the United States, including the Federal motor vehicle safety standards. Because Monte Carlo had neither income or expenses, you were unable to file with your petition any information on the financial status of the company. The manufacturer of the car is not willing to sell you any vehicles for your enterprise, or to cooperate with you by furnishing information that would assist you in determining the extent to which the Mini might or might not meet U.S. requirements. You propose to buy the cars from a Mini dealer in Belgium. You are willing to remove all items of motor vehicle equipment that do not meet Federal motor vehicle safety standards and to replace them with conforming parts. You have received an estimate from a Registered Importer of the expense to conform the noncomplying Minis. You state that this Registered Importer, J&K Imports, located in Maryland, will be the company that actually conforms the vehicles to those standards for which no exemption has been granted, and installs propane engines to meet EPA requirements.
In the 25 years that the exemption authority has been in effect, with the exception of Isis Imports and Cantab Ltd., the agency has accepted temporary exemption petitions based upon hardship only from the actual manufacturer of the motor vehicle for which exemption was sought. We have not accepted petitions from importers who have no legal or commercial relationship to the manufacturer. An exception was made for Isis and Cantab on the basis that they had been Morgan dealers, and were receiving Morgan cars without engines, completing their manufacture by installing U.S. Ford engines converted to propane. In general, these companies petitioned for exemption from only one or two of the safety standards, and certfied compliance with the rest partially on the basis of information furnished them by the British manufacturer. Both Isis and Cantab's petitions spoke of the cooperation shown by Morgan in assisting their attempts to furnish air bags and other safety equipment.
In contrast, you have no legal or commercial relationship to Rover. In fact, Rover has specifically advised you that it will not furnish you with cars, nor will it provide information as to the compliance status of the British Mini with respect to the U.S. standards, let alone compliance of a Mini manufactured for the Dutch market which you propose to import. Further, under our laws, a manufacturer of a motor vehicle is required to notify owners and remedy any safety related defect or noncompliance with a standard that occurs in its product. Isis and Cantab were existing enterprises with a demonstrated financial record. Whether Monte Carlo Minis has the financial resources necessary to initiate and complete a notification and remedy campaign cannot be determined on the basis of your representation that the company has no balance sheet or income statement. Even if such resources exist, the record does not provide any assurance that Rover would cooperate in furnishing you replacement parts so that a safety related defect or noncompliance could be corrected within a reasonable time.
We have reached this conclusion with regret because we appreciate your willingness to comply with Federal regulations while bringing to our attention those who may not be so publicly spirited. We have informed our enforcement staff of the other companies that may be selling Minis so that they may consider what action is appropriate under the circumstances.
Finally, in your FAX of March 13, 1997, you have asked whether you can upgrade to 12 inch tires and rims and add disc brakes to the pre-1973 Minis that you import, reporting that Customs officials in Port Elizabeth, New York, consider that Minis so equiped were manufactured in 1984 or later. Because vehicles more than 25 years old are exempt from compliance with the Federal motor vehicle safety standards, you are free to make these modifications without violating our regulations.
If you have any questions, you may refer them to Taylor Vinson of this Office (202-366-5263).
Acting Chief Counsel