Tesla may lose exemption for Roadster air bags

Article by Christian Andrei, on June 11, 2011

Because of an exemption, Tesla Motors Inc.’s $109,000 electric roadster is allowed to be fitted with airbags that fail to comply with U.S. safety standards.

However, this may soon change as the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration said in a Federal Register notice that it may stop giving waivers to an 11-year-old law that cars sold in the U.S. should have these advanced air bags. Sensors in these air bags consider the occupants’ heights and weights and adjust the force accordingly.

In the last five years, exemptions were given to Tesla, Lamborghini and other limited-production automakers based on financial-hardship reasons.

Jeffrey Runge, formerly an NHTSA administrator who is president of Biologue Inc., a consultant on transportation safety, said that buyers should be informed that these air bags do not meet U.S. safety requirements.

So far, 1,700 Roadsters have been sold around the globe. Khobi Brooklyn, a Tesla spokeswoman, said that the company is working to get another waiver for the Roadster, whose production will end this year.

She said that by the middle of 2012, Tesla intends to already begin sales of its Model S sedans, which meet the air-bag rules.

Edmunds.com said that Group Lotus Plc, the British sports-car maker, said that it will end production for North America of its Elise and Exige models partly because of the air bag rule. Waivers have also been given to companies like Ferrari SpA, controlled by Fiat SpA, and Wheego Electric Cars Inc., which builds two-seat electric LiFe cars.

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