IMAGE: TESLA ROADSTER
Gus Ruelas  /  Reuters
The prototype Tesla Roadster is displayed at a media event touting green transportation in Hollywood, California, on Feb. 21, 2007. Several hundred celebrities have signed up to buy the electric car that goes from 0 to 60 mph in four seconds.
updated 2/7/2008 11:12:44 AM ET 2008-02-07T16:12:44

Tesla Motors has a green light to import its all-electric Roadster starting in March after receiving a waiver on a federal air bag standard.

Tesla, based in San Carlos, Calif., has pre-sold all of its 2008 Tesla Roadsters, a fully electric sports car that sells for $98,000. The company needed the waiver to be able to sell in the United States.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration said recently it would give the company a three-year exemption from the advanced air bag rule, noting that Tesla tried to comply with the requirements and would still have standard air bags on the vehicle.

Based on information provided by the automaker, NHTSA estimates the waiver will cover 3,825 Roadsters, including 625 vehicles this year and 1,600 in each of the following two years.

NHTSA called the Roadster "one of the most advanced full electric vehicles available" and said the "public interest is served by encouraging the development of fuel-efficient and alternative-fueled vehicles."

The Roadster can do 0 to 60 mph in 4 seconds, and tailpipe emissions of gases that produce smog and greenhouse gases are zero.

The federal agency said Tesla posted operating losses of $43 million from 2003-2006 and that without the waiver, Tesla would "have to cancel its pending development of an electric-powered sedan, and would ultimately have to terminate its operations."

Tesla said in a statement last month that it had received all regulatory approvals to import the first production Roadster for sale in the United States and production would begin March 17.

Tesla has based its Roadster on the two-seat Lotus Elise sports car, which also could not comply with the advanced air bag rule and received an exemption from NHTSA in August 2006. The vehicle will be manufactured at a Lotus factory in Hethel, England, under Tesla's supervision.

Tesla also has announced plans to produce at least 10,000 all-electric, five-passenger sedans a year at a plant in Albuquerque, N.M., beginning in the fall of 2009.

Copyright 2008 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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