A small California company has launched a remake of a U.S. Postal Service Jeep to compete in the low-end sport-utility segment.
But the remanufactured Jeeps are ahead of their time - so much so that Safari-Kar International of San Bernardino, Calif., is bumping up against state and federal laws.
As a licensed remanufacturer in California, Safari-Kar performs a type of recycling, said President Tommy Mason.
In reconstructing former Postal Service Jeeps and declaring them a new 1995 Safari-Kar, the company:
Replaces the 'Jeep' badge with 'Safari-Kar.'
Mounts a plate on the left door frame disclosing the vehicle's former mileage and that the vehicle is remanufactured from used parts.
Replaces the used odometer with a new one.
Gives the vehicle a 12-month/12,000-mile warranty.
Sets the odometer at zero.
Although Safari-Kar is only producing about 30 vehicles per month, Mason believes there's a market for a cross between a new and used sport-utility. The base price is $6,500.
The strongest prospect is a commercial fleet such as parking enforcement vehicles, rural route postal vehicles and rental vehicles in the Sunbelt, said Mason. Customers can order the steering wheel either on the right side or the left side. He said the vehicles, painted in bright colors, also make a good second car or first-time buyer vehicle.
'The car is in a price range that is very affordable. With used cars, the terms (for financing) are limited, making the payments very expensive. Because this is registered as a 1995 vehicle, we'll get the same or similar financing as on a new car,' said Bob Giles, president of Giles Nissan-Volvo in Lafayette, La., who has agreed to be a Safari-Kar dealer.
Safari-Kar has signed 12 independent manufacturer's representatives throughout the country and will be seeking dealers in addition to Giles, said Ron Weaver, Safari-Kar's chief operating officer. The company has sold vehicles to fleets in Rhode Island, Massachusetts and California. It has lined up contracts with rural route mail carriers, municipal fleets and rental car fleets, he said.
FACING A LEGAL JUNGLE
But the market could go sour if the remanufacturer doesn't iron out problems with state and federal laws, such as:
Setting the odometer at zero and labeling Safari-Kars as current model vehicles violates federal odometer law, said Richard Morse, chief of the odometer fraud unit for the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
'If they are calling these 1995 vehicles, they must meet 1995 safety requirements,' said Clive Van Orden, chief of NHTSA's division of safety assurance.
Many states don't register remanufactured vehicles as California does, admits Mason. The company is exploring sales opportunities in Texas and Louisiana. Some state officials don't know how to classify the vehicles.
'We are still trying to ascertain what it is and who should license it. We believe it needs to be titled as a used vehicle,' said Burgess McCranie, an attorney with the Louisiana Motor Vehicle Commission.
If the odometer is replaced, it can legally be set at zero, said Weaver, adding that the company complies with California law. The odometer can be replaced and set at zero only if it was destroyed, said Van Orden.
'They (federal officials) are wrong (about Safari-Kar having to meet current safety requirements). There is a difference between a manufacturer and a remanufacturer. We only have to meet the original standards (of the original model year) of the vehicle. Safari-Kars only have to pass that (original) year's standards of emissions,' Weaver insists.
NHTSA IS WARY
But NHTSA officials disagree. Weaver told Automotive News he would contact NHTSA about federal requirements. Van Orden is scheduled to visit the company's California plant in the next couple of weeks to examine Safari-Kar's remanufacturing process.
'I'm not familiar with other state laws, but we have new, used and remanufactured vehicles. Remanufactured vehicles are similar to new vehicles. They have their own certificates of origin and their own special reports of sale,' said Chris Humphries, manager of the California Department of Motor Vehicles Redland office.
Safari-Kar 'has tried to make sure it is in full compliance with California law,' Humphries said. 'Nothing has been refused by our headquarters. Everything has been complied with.'