US state now cancelling registrations on legally imported JDM cars

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Words: Matthew Hansen
27 Jul 2021

America’s somewhat infamous 25-year import rule has gained particular notoriety over the last few years for its impact on the price and demand for 1990s Japanese nostalgia. It’s a big reason why any Nissan with a ‘GT-R’ badge costs moonbeams around the world.

But, it looks like there’s a problem. Maine, home to some exceptional nature areas, Baxter State Park, and Portland (not the Canadian Portland, the other Portland) has decided to come down hard on Japanese imports that had previously been imported and registered legally.

For the moment, the move seemingly only applies to early 1990s-generation Mitsubishi Delica owners. While the humble Delica is an unloved commodity in New Zealand, its four-wheel drive variants have a huge cult following in the US.

Owners of Delicas based in Maine have reported getting letters from the Maine Bureau of Motor Vehicles informing them that their pride and joy is now unregistrable. The bureau quotes a statute known as 29-A MRSA 354, which states that an off-road vehicle can’t be registered in the state.

Confused? You’re not alone. It appears the state has mislabeled the Delica as a ‘minitruck’, adding that it doesn’t meet federal emissions and safety requirements. The Delica is not mini in the slightest, meeting none of the metrics that define a Japanese Kei vehicle. Evidently, kei truck owners in the region are also being targeted.

The concern now is that most Japanese import vehicles don’t meet federal emissions and safety standards, meaning that the state of Maine could soon chase up all and sundry, from Nissan Skyline GT-R owners to Honda Civic Type R owners and beyond.

Special Assistant to the Secretary of State, Emily Cook confirmed that this is a possibility. In a a statement issued to Jalopnik, she noted that ‘antique vehicles’ and golf carts are the only exception to the rule.

“You are correct with regard to Maine only registering vehicles that were manufactured to meet federal regulations for safety and emissions. [...] And it does mean that vehicles which don’t meet these standards aren’t supposed to be registered,” she said.

“When we find that any such vehicle has been inappropriately registered, we revoke that registration, which is what recently happened to a handful of pre-1995 Mitsubishi Delica vans. This is all, of course, to ensure safety on Maine roads and protect the environment.”

What now for the Delica owners? Well, there’s little word on whether they will be able to claim back the cost of their registration fees or if a buy-back scheme is going to be set-up (they did import the vehicles in good faith, after all). Most owners wouldn’t have an issue selling the cars to enthusiasts in other states. But, how long before other states follow a similar regulatory path …



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