Lamborghinis, Ferraris, and Bucattis, oh my!

The style and status of supercars seem attainable to many only in the latest hit song. However, social media and hobbyist-friendly manufacturing technology have made modern kit cars more attainable. Kit cars (a.k.a. replica cars) are imitations of supercars, typically selling for at least half the price of the original model. The history of the kit car market dates back to the 1960s, when small-time companies would use base cars to create cars similar to high-end sports cars and sell the finished product under another name. Today, hobbyists, body shops, and other small-time manufacturers use common car parts, 3D printing, more malleable fiberglass, etc. to transform a base car (typically a Pontiac Fiero) into a hot rod. Platforms like Facebook, Craiglist, and other car-community websites are used to sell the final product.

How legal is this lean-in on luxury? Much to the chagrin of car enthusiasts who gripe about hobbyists devaluing the original supercar, supercar companies tend not to target hobbyist kit car makers. Though supercar companies could sue for patent infringement by demonstrating the imitation’s substantial similarity to the original, the grab bag of parts used to create replicas may be hard for manufacturers to prove and thus not worth pursuing. Accordingly, as long as those selling the models are not holding themselves out as the “real deal,” hobbyists are likely fine to sell their kit cars.

The legality of body shop production, however, still hangs in the balance. In 2000 and 2013, Ferrari and Lamborghini, respectively, went after body shops for producing kit cars. However, the 2015 Fixing America’s Surface Transportation Act (“The FAST Act”) seemed promising in addressing this question of artistic adoration versus fraudulent production. FAST instructed NHTSA and the EPA to create a framework for low-volume manufacturers who produced and imported 325 or fewer replicas annually. FAST was crucial since the previous implementation framework only addressed the needs of mass producers of your everyday car.

Initially, enthusiasts complained of FAST’s definition of “replica,” as FAST seemed only to permit imitations of cars that were at least twenty-five years old. On the other hand, previous makers of older models, including replica manufacturers of the movie-famed Delorean, were ecstatic. Many of these manufacturers are part of the Speciality Equipment Market Association (“SEMA”), a group that represents the $43 billion specialty automotive industry. Many of those represented by SEMA took FAST as a sign of redevelopment for replica cars. Hence, smaller producers who were previously excluded were excited to finally get in the game and, as a result, gathered investors and orders in hopes of manufacturing.

Despite pressures from the replica car community and its investors, NHTSA has yet to enforce the law on regulatory grounds.

Instead of waiting for the red tape to subside, SEMA has recently leaped for FAST’s finish line by suing the Department of Transportation for its lack of implementation and its effect on wasted investment.

Though this suit may bring much-needed clarity to the legal state of kit cars, the answer for the kit car community may be anything but “FAST.”

Lauren Jones

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