Government shutdown could delay new 2014 vehicle launches

This undated publicity photo provided by American Honda Motor Co., Inc. shows the 2014 Honda Accord Hybrid. Honda says the hybrid, which goes on sale ...
This undated photo shows the 2014 Honda Accord Hybrid. Honda says the hybrid, which goes on sale Oct. 31, 2013, should get 49 mpg in the city, 45 mpg on the highway and 47 mpg combined, which would make it the most efficient midsize hybrid on the market. uncredited

The four-day-old federal government shutdown could force automakers to delay the launch of some of their new model vehicles.

The budget impasse has forced the furloughing of about 800,000 federal workers, halting many services described as “non-essential,” such as Environmental Protection Agency testing programs used to determine the mileage ratings of new vehicles and field crash tests by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

An EPA rating is required on the so-called “Munroney” window stickers found on every new car sold in the U.S. And often, the testing required for those stickers is completed just shortly before a vehicle launches sales.

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Because of the number of new products being introduced each year, the EPA only tests between 10 percent and 15 percent of all new vehicles, with manufacturers expected to handle the rest, but the government still reviews the test results before giving an automaker approval to use the resulting numbers.

Without that sign-off, it’s unclear whether new 2014 products that have yet to get certification will be able to be sold. They might be forced to sit in showrooms indefinitely, if the federal shutdown drags on, with dealers unable to put those products on sale. 

One model that did beat the government shutdown is the 2014 Honda Accord Hybrid, which is slated to go on sale on Oct. 31. Luckily for Honda, it had already got the required certification.

(Read also: Porsche Charged Up About First Plug-in Hybrid)

Art St. Cyr, U.S. head of product planning, said that all the immediate models Honda is introducing have gotten their official EPA ratings. But the government shutdown could be a problem, he said, "if it drags on, and not just for us.

"We'll have to study what we'd do."

Crash testing is crucial too and delays caused by the shutdown could cause headaches for electric carmaker Tesla as the investigation continues into precisely why a Tesla Model S battery-car caught fire earlier this week in a Seattle suburb. Normally NHTSA researchers would be working alongside Tesla investigators to determine the cause of what has been tentatively blamed on road debris puncturing part of the sedan’s 85 kilowatt-hour battery pack.

(Read also: Tesla Fire Gives Chills to Investors)

In turn, were the government to discover a serious flaw in the Model S design, that might lead to a recall or other service action.

Other government crash test programs are also expected to be delayed, though it’s unclear if that would impact the development or introduction of any new products due to come to market in the near future.

But NHTSA has also been forced to put a hold on vehicle recalls. That arguably could be a life-threatening matter if it means that any critical vehicle safety issues – such as faulty brakes, defective airbags or some other severe defect – were to go unresolved for any extended length of time.