In order to be sold in the U.S., all passenger cars must pass a long list of Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards Regulations, including advanced airbags and electric stability control.
Sometimes, usually in the case of low-volume, low-emission cars, the FMVSSR may grant a temporary exemption to the rules to allow a new car to be sold without complete compliance with the rules.
Earlier today, we learned that Wheego Electric Cars, maker of the Wheego Whip LiFe two-seat city car, has been awarded a second temporary exemption to FMVSSR rules after the first ran out on August 1, allowing it to remain on the market until December 31, 2012.
According to official documentation, the exemption to the tough FMVSSR rules is required because the tiny $32,995 Chinese-built car does not have an Electronic Stability Control (ESC) system fitted, although it does have an Anti-lock Braking System (ABS) fitted.
Nor does it have airbags, Although it has simple airbags instead of so-called advanced airbags -- another requirement in order to pass FMVSSR -- the application notes the Wheego LiFe is already exempted from this until February 11, 2013.
It is worth noting that Tesla’s original Roadster, another limited-run production vehicle, was also exempted under the same scheme, enabling it to be sold in the U.S. without advanced, two-stage airbags until December 31, 2011.
In its application for a temporary exemption, Wheego claims it had intended to develop an ESC system for its low-scale production car, but that “delays in funding and later developments have made it impossible for Wheego to develop an ESC System for the LiFe before September 2011 (sic).”
Wheego has stated that it will comply with FMVSS regulations by the end of the new exempted period, using the intervening time to develop and implement a fully-functioning ESC system into its car.
Under the terms of the agreement, Wheego will be allowed by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration to build up to 1,000 Wheego Whip LiFe cars.
As the NHTSA notes in the official documents, a larger production volume estimate would likely have resulted in an unsuccessful grant of petition.
We first drove a pre-production Wheego Whip LiFe back in 2010 and found it not particularly pleasant to drive.
With a top speed of just 65 mph, and a sticker price higher than the much-better equipped 2012 Mitsubishi i all-electric four-seat hatchback, the Wheego Whip LiFe has tough competition.
That might be why we’ve yet to see any official sales figures for the tiny car.
With official exemption granted, Wheego can continue to sell its Whip LiFe until the end of the year. What happens next will be down to Wheego, its ability to build the necessary safety equipment in time, and of course, the electric car market.