By on June 10, 2011

Automotive News [sub] points us to a notice in the Federal Register, which notes that

In accordance with the procedures in 49 CFR Part 555, Tesla Motors, Inc., has petitioned the agency for renewal of a temporary exemption from certain advanced air bag requirements of FMVSS No. 208. The basis for the application is that the petitioner avers that compliance would cause it substantial economic hardship and that it has tried in good faith to comply with the standard…

Not so bad, right? As a small manufacturer, Tesla simply has to prove that it still isn’t in the financial shape to put advanced airbags in its money-losing Roadster… after all, nothing has fundamentally changed since the initial waiver was granted. But it turns out that NHTSA isn’t going to give out these waivers like candy anymore…

Notwithstanding those previous grants of exemption, NHTSA is considering two key issues–

(1) whether it is in the public interest to continue to grant such
petitions, particularly in the same manner as in the past, given the
number of years these requirements have now been in effect and the
benefits of advanced air bags, and

(2) to the extent such petitions are granted, what plans and
countermeasures to protect child and infant occupants, short of
compliance with the advanced air bags, should be expected.

While the exemption authority was created to address the problems of small manufacturers and the agency wishes to be appropriately attentive to those problems, it was not anticipated by the agency that use of this authority would result in small manufacturers being given much more than relatively short term exemptions from recently implemented safety standards, especially those addressing particularly significant safety problems.

Given the passage of time since the advanced air bag requirements were established and implemented, and in light of the benefits of advanced air bags, NHTSA is considering whether it is in the public interest to continue to grant exemptions from these requirements, particularly under the same terms as in the past. The costs of compliance with the advanced air bag requirements of FMVSS No. 208 are costs that all entrants to the U.S. automobile marketplace should expect to bear. Furthermore, NHTSA understands that, in contrast to the initial years after the advanced air bag requirements went into effect, low volume manufacturers now have access to advanced air bag technology. Accordingly, NHTSA tentatively concludes that the expense of advanced air bag technology is not now sufficient, in and of itself, to justify the grant of a petition for a hardship exemption from the advanced air bag requirements

And guess what? NHTSA should be pulling Tesla’s waiver. After all, if a couple of guys importing Shuanghuan Noble gliders in small batches and converting them to CNG power are complying with NHTSA’s Advanced Airbag requirement, why shouldn’t a well-funded, public company that has received hundreds of millions of dollars in taxpayer support?

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