Low-volume automakers like Lamborghini and Tesla Motors may soon lose an exemption that allows them to sell cars in the United States with below-standard airbags. The exemption was granted on financial hardship grounds. Now, though, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration says the expense of airbag technology isn't enough to grant an exception.
Tesla is seeking another exemption for its Roadster, which ceases production later this year. According to Tesla execs, the Model S, which goes on sale in mid-2012, will have airbags that meet NHTSA standards.

Lamborghini brass say the end to the exemptions won't affect them, as all of the automaker's current models meet the latest standards. Although Lotus wouldn't confirm anything, the company likely ended production of the Elise and Exige in this country because of the exemptions' end.


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  • 20 Comments
      Rotation
      • 3 Years Ago
      The expense of the airbags shouldn't be a hardship. You pass it on to customers. It is the expense/difficulty of re-engineering the car to employ the airbags that is a hardship. As such, any new platform designed years after the rule came into effect shouldn't be able to qualify for a hardship. This goes for the Elise v3 and the Tesla Model S. This legend of why the Elise/Exige is gone is getting a bit old. It's easy to blame the government, but if you're concerned about the truth you might want to look back at your own site: http://www.autoblog.com/2010/09/17/lotus-gifts-toyota-an-elise-with-last-2zz-engine/ And see that Toyota stopped making the engines used in the US Elise a while back. Unlike in Europe, Lotus doesn't have another engine qualified for the US market. And you do recall Lotus is pretty broke right now, right?
        rsxvue
        • 3 Years Ago
        @Rotation
        It would be great if Lotus used Honda's K series engines.
      willyk52
      • 3 Years Ago
      Does anyone know which cars have the exemption or where that information could be found ? Are there any other safey exemptions other than advanced airbags ? "Lamborghini’s last exemption expired in February and Ferrari’s ended in August 2009." "Panoz Auto Development Co., .......including advanced air bags in its custom sports cars would add about $6,129 to the cost of each vehicle." "....Wheego Electric Cars Inc., which makes two-seat electric LiFe cars, have also received waivers." "NHTSA began requiring advanced air bags in model-year 2004 cars and trucks sold in the U.S., allowing exceptions to keep using standard air bags for manufacturers producing fewer than 10,000 vehicles in a year. About 10 companies have received the waivers, said Karen Aldana, a spokeswoman for the auto-safety regulator." "Only small manufacturers can obtain a hardship exemption. A manufacturer is eligible to apply for a hardship exemption if its total motor vehicle production in its most recent year of production did not exceed 10,000 vehicles, as determined by the NHTSA Administrator (49 U.S.C. 30113)" "For an exemption petition to be granted on the basis that the exemption would make the development or field evaluation of a low-emission motor vehicle easier and would not unreasonably lower the safety level of the vehicle, the petition must include specified information set forth at 49 CFR 555.6(c)."
      nismokid02
      • 3 Years Ago
      As a purist, I would say I'd rather see them spend the money on performance areas of the car. I'd "feel" a ton safer in bucket seats, a six-piont harness, and no airbags in a Lotus than I would a minivan with 20 airbags. But then reality hits as I'm making "vroom vroom" sounds as I go 15mph through CA traffic. And by reality I mean that 4 ton Hummer that thought I was a garbage can on the freeway.
      SpikedLemon
      • 3 Years Ago
      Wow. That's sad. At least Lamborghini that another couple bucks on the car for safety is worth it.
      Drive EV
      • 3 Years Ago
      Tesla Roadsters DO have airbags... I believe they are compliant to the EU regulations which is very good. The issue is that US safety regulation are based on passengers NOT wearing seatbelts, thus requiring bigger airbags than in the rest of the world. This is in direct contradiction with the US law stating that seatbelts MUST be worn in a passenger vehicle in the US. It's about time to adjust the regulations so it makes sense.
        Rotation
        • 3 Years Ago
        @Drive EV
        There is no "US Law stating that seatbelts must be worn". That law is state-by-state. The problem here isn't anything about who is wearing seatbelts or not anyway. The problem is you are required to have two-stage airbags in the US. The problem is that an airbag which produces enough force to stop an adult in a crash will actually injure a child because of too much force. This produces injuries in wrecks where there otherwise wouldn't be any. So the airbags need to deploy with a force somewhat in proportion to the crash speed and passenger weight. If you can't do this, you don't qualify, even if you qualify in the EU.
      Rich
      • 3 Years Ago
      Tesla should not get an exemption based on financial hardship. They received approximately $450 million dollars for the US government a year ago, and had an IPO which now their company has a market cap of $3 Billion. Think about it a minute.... Tesla is worth $3,000,000,000 and they are claiming financial hardship so that they can be exempt from putting a safe airbag system in the Roadster.
      • 3 Years Ago
      [blocked]
      flammablewater
      • 3 Years Ago
      I was not aware of this. Definitely never buying a new car with 'below standard' airbags. Especially when it costs over $100k!
      Hazdaz
      • 3 Years Ago
      You would think that a sports car of all cars would have the best safety features, not "below-standard" ones. I can almost - just almost - see Tesla getting an exemption due to their start-up status and extremely low volumes, but Lamborghini is a much bigger, richer company, and they are then owned by one of the largest automakers on the planet. Absolutely no excuse for them. Glad to see they aren't crying-poverty to get out of it.
      Making11s
      • 3 Years Ago
      Why offer an exemption to anyone that builds more than 100 cars? If you can't afford to put airbags in your car then maybe you shouldn't be building cars.
      • 3 Years Ago
      [blocked]
        JR
        • 3 Years Ago
        Airbags are a bitch. There are parts of an airbag system that could be considered "off the shelf," but those parts need to be put together with parts specifically tuned to the way a car crashes to make an FMVSS compliant system. What this exemption seems to be referring to is the requirement for dual-stage, advanced airbags. In recent model years, (2009+ or so), sensors have been installed in the seats to detect the weight / presence of an occupant. That sensor determines how hard/fast the airbag is deployed based on testing based calibrations. Those tests are $$$$. Something else to know about airbags is that the system in your US FMVSS compliant vehicle is tuned to protect an unbelted occupant, rather than be optimized to protect the people wearing seatbelts. Not because the automakers want to, but because NHTSA (and probably consumer advocate groups like Public Citizen) says so...just sayin'....
        Rich
        • 3 Years Ago
        Airbags are not off-the-shelf, it's one of the most engineering intensive part of automotive. Safety system design takes into account the unique vehicle structure crash deformation, vehicle mass, deceleration crash pulse, ect, which is all just a small part of the crash model. The real expensive fun start during barrier crash testing. All in all, the each vehicle requires unique approach and the development can tally up around $10M when it's said and done.
      X
      • 3 Years Ago
      They will figure out something, they've dealt with bigger issues before.
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