Moving into the '70s and '80s, enthusiasts began to see and experience the impact of OEM emissions controls. Federal emissions standards imposed on the OEM were mandated in shorter time periods and included the downsizing of piston displacements, reducing vehicle weight, redesigning engine packages, and making companion changes requiring years to accomplish. As a result, we entered the emissions "Band-Aid" era involving short-term modifications the OEMs could make in order to meet required standards. Air pumps, carburetors with limited adjustments, exhaust gas recirculation, catalytic converters, rear gear changes to reduce on-road engine speeds and comparable "quick fixes" were imposed on consumers and enthusiasts, the net effect being both a real and perceived reduction in prior vehicle performance.
At the enthusiast level, emissions controls were perceived as performance-reducing components. It would be another 10 years before redesigned engine packages with computer controlled EFI and higher overall combustion efficiency would restore "high performance" to the OEM community while meeting even more stringent emissions and fuel economy requirements.
Even during these years, and flying somewhat under the radar, there was the need for specialty aftermarket parts manufacturers to begin adapting to new OEM technologies. Failure to do this impacted two areas in particular. One dealt with attempts to develop products with consumer value, in the face of much more daunting engineering tasks. The other was the requirement that certain emissions standards be met, because by this time both the CARB and the EPA were aware that improperly designed emissions-related parts could take an otherwise certified vehicle out of compliance.
At this point, SEMA took a proactive role in working directly with CARB to create a method by which emissions-related specialty aftermarket parts could be brought into compliance. While the EPA had its own anti-tampering provisions contained in the federal law affecting aftermarket parts, the CARB had taken a more aggressive position in regulating these components. Working directly with CARB staff, SEMA helped establish an emissions testing program whereby emissions-critical parts could be made legal for on-road use in California. Ultimately, EPA would recognize this certification for use elsewhere in the country. At the time, as now, the so-called CARB "executive order" (EO) certification process that was created embodied test procedures required of the OEMs when certifying new vehicles. Today, SEMA continues working with both CARB and EPA to help enable its membership to achieve emissions compliance for specialty aftermarket parts, all of which has a direct impact on several segments in the performance enthusiast community.