Dear Mr. Fairchild:
This responds to your request for my opinion of whether a particular vehicle (the Pinzgauer) would be considered a "motor vehicle" for the purposes of the National Traffic and Motor Vehicle Safety Act. When NHTSA previously considered this question, we stated in a March 25, 1982 letter to Mr. Leonard Fink that the Pinzgauer would be considered to be a motor vehicle, based on the information that was available to the agency at that time. However, that letter also stated that the agency would be willing to reconsider this conclusion if additional information were provided regarding the vehicle's marketing, advertising, and actual use. Your recent letter set forth three additional factors that you suggested might lead the agency to change its previous conclusion that the Pinzgauer was a motor vehicle. As explained in detail below, this agency reaffirms the previous conclusion that the Pinzgauer appears to be a motor vehicle.
Section 102(3) of the Safety Act (15 U.S.C. 1391(3)) defines a "motor vehicle" as
any vehicle driven or drawn by mechanical power manufactured primarily for use on the public streets, roads, and highways, except any vehicle operated exclusively on a rail or rails.
NHTSA has interpreted this language as follows. Vehicles that are equipped with tracks or are otherwise incapable of highway travel are plainly not motor vehicles. Further, vehicles designed and sold solely for off-road use (e.g., airport runway vehicles and underground mining devices) are not considered motor vehicles, even though they may be operationally capable of highway travel. Vehicles that have an abnormal body configuration that readily distinguishes them from other highway vehicles and a maximum speed of 20 miles per hour (mph) are not considered motor vehicles, because their use of the public roads is intermittent and incidental to their primary intended off-road use. On the other hand, vehicles that use the public highways on a necessary and recurring basis are motor vehicles. For instance, a utility vehicle like the Jeep is plainly a motor vehicle, even though it is equipped with special features to permit off-road operation. If a vehicle's greatest use will be off-road, but it will spend a substantial amount of time on-road, then NHTSA has interpreted the vehicle to be a "motor vehicle". Further, the agency has determined that a vehicle such as a dune buggy is a motor vehicle if it is readily usable on the public roads and is in fact used on the public roads by a substantial number of owners, regardless of the manufacturer's stated intent regarding the terrain on which the vehicle is to be operated.
Vehicles such as the Pinzgauer are not easily classified under either of these groupings. On the one hand, the Pinzgauer is obviously designed to have substantial off-road capabilities, as evidenced by high ground clearance, deep water fording capabilities, and all-wheel drive. According to its manufacturer, 95 percent of the annual production of Pinzgauers is purchased by armed forces worldwide. These factors suggest that the Pinzgauer should not be classified as a motor vehicle. On the other hand, the available information shows the Pinzgauer is suitable for use on-road. The vehicle has a top speed of nearly 70 miles per hour. Page 4 of Enclosure 1 of your letter shows that the Pinzgauer is equipped with turn signals and states that the power steering minimizes steering effort "both in difficult terrain and when parking." Page 4 of Enclosure 3 with your letter describes the serviceability of the Pinzgauer "with ordinary on- and off-road usage." These factors suggest that the vehicle is designed and intended to be routinely used on the public roads, which suggests that it should be classified as a motor vehicle.
In instances where the agency is asked whether something is a motor vehicle, when the vehicle has both on-road and off-road operating capabilities, and about which there is little or no evidence about the extent of the vehicle's on-road use, NHTSA has applied five factors to reach its conclusion. These factors are:
1. Whether States or foreign countries have permitted or are likely to permit the vehicle to be registered for on-road use.
2. Whether the vehicle is or will be advertised for use on-road as well as off-road, or whether it is or will be advertised exclusively for off-road use.
3. Whether the vehicle's manufacturer or dealers will assist vehicle purchasers in obtaining certificates of origin or title documents to register the vehicle for on-road use.
4. Whether the vehicle is or will be sold by dealers also selling vehicles that are classified as motor vehicles.
5. Whether the vehicle has or will have affixed to it a warning label stating that the vehicle is not intended for use on the public roads.
When NHTSA previously considered whether the Pinzgauer should be considered a motor vehicle, the available information regarding these factors showed that the manufacturer had equipped the vehicle with side marker lights, the manufacturer expected the vehicle to be used on-road, and that it would be sold by dealers that also sell vehicles that are clearly motor vehicles.
In your letter, you enclosed some additional information and brochures from the manufacturer that show the manufacturer continues to expect Pinzgauers to be used both on- and off-road. Since the manufacturer does not now expect to sponsor the vehicle's sale in the U.S., no information is available on the anticipated dealers. The additional information enclosed with your letter did not specifically address any factors on which no information was previously available to NHTSA. Hence, the agency has no basis for changing its previous conclusion that the Pinzgauer appears to be a motor vehicle.
You suggested three reasons that might lead the agency to reverse its previous conclusion. First, you suggested that the 6-wheeled version of the Pinzgauer has a unique body configuration which distinguishes it from typical, on-road vehicles and makes it particularly well suited to off-road use. You correctly noted that the agency's 1982 letter addressed both the 4-wheeled and 6-wheeled version of the Pinzgauer. However, for the purposes of this analysis, there is no attribute of the 6-wheeled version that would lead the agency to conclude that it should be classified differently than the 4-wheeled version of the Pinzgauer. Many vehicles that are clearly motor vehicles have 6 wheels. In all other respects, the 4- and 6-wheeled Pinzgauers have similar on-road capabilities, including a top speed of more than 65 miles per hour.
Second, you suggested that NHTSA concluded that the Unimog is not a "motor vehicle" in a February 7, 1984 letter, and that the Unimog and Pinzgauer are comparable vehicles. In the February 7, 1984 letter to Mr. Karl-Heinz Faber to which you refer, NHTSA stated that it had no basis for changing its previous conclusion that the Unimog was not a "motor vehicle." NHTSA also noted that this conclusion was based upon the assumptions that Unimog vehicles would continue to be marketed through dealers of farm machinery and heavy equipment and that Unimog vehicles would have a label affixed stating that the Unimog is not manufactured for highway use. In other words, the information available for Unimog (especially regarding factors number 4 and 5 above) was sufficient to lead the agency to conclude that it was not a motor vehicle, even though Unimogs are operationally capable of on-road use. By way of contrast, either no information is available for Pinzgauer vehicles regarding the five factors identified above or, if information is available for a factor, it suggests that the Pinzgauer should be treated as a motor vehicle. Since the Pinzgauer is operationally capable of on-road use, and there is no indication that the manufacturer does not intend for it to spend a substantial amount of time on-road, NHTSA reaffirms its previous statement that these vehicles appear to be "motor vehicles," within the meaning of the Safety Act.
Third, you suggested that NHTSA's 1982 conclusion did not include a consideration of the primary design intent of the Pinzgauer for military purposes and the high percentage of its total sales to the military. NHTSA's 1982 conclusion and this reconsideration both are addressed only to the non-military versions of the Pinzgauer. The military versions of the Pinzgauer would not be subject to the safety standards if their sales satisfied 49 CFR 571.7(c). In both the 1982 and this examination of whether the non-military versions of the Pinzgauer are motor vehicles, the agency fully considered the substantial off-road capabilities of these vehicles. However, absent indications that the manufacturer does not intend the Pinzgauer to spend substantial periods of time on-road, NHTSA concluded in 1982, and reaffirms at this time, that the non-military versions of the Pinzgauer appear to be "motor vehicles" within the meaning of the Safety Act.
I hope this information is useful. If you have any further questions or need some additional information on this topic, please feel free to contact Steve Kratzke of my staff at this address or by telephone at (202) 366-2992.
Paul Jackson Rice Chief Counsel