Mr. Wayne Duff
Importation and Audit Inspection
Place de Ville, 300 Sparks St.
Ottawa, Ontario K1A 0N5
Dear Mr. Duff:
This is in response to your e-mail inquiry, in which you ask several questions concerning the application of vehicle identification numbers (VINs) and World Manufacturer Identifiers (WMIs) to imported "scooters" and off-road vehicles. Our response to each of your questions is set forth below.
As you are aware, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) regulates "motor vehicles." That term is defined by our statute as "a vehicle driven or drawn by mechanical power and manufactured primarily for use on public streets, roads, and highways, but does not include a vehicle operated only on a rail line." 49 U.S.C.
§ 30102(a)(6). NHTSA does not regulate vehicles manufactured primarily for off-road use (e.g., ATVs, snowmobiles). Instead, the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) has jurisdiction over the safety of such vehicles.
Our regulation governing VIN requirements, 49 CFR Part 565, Vehicle Identification Number Requirements, is limited in applicability to motor vehicles. The regulation defines the term "VIN" as "a series of Arabic numbers and Roman letters that is assigned to a motor vehicle for identification purposes." 49 CFR §565.3(o) (emphasis added).
In implementing Part 565, NHTSA contracts with the Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE) to generate and assign WMIs, which are required under the VIN regulation, to motor vehicle manufacturers. The SAE is the designated U.S. organization representing the International Standards Organization (ISO) for vehicle-related identification matters.
In your e-mail you provided photos of stand-up scooters, which Transport Canada classifies as restricted use motorcycles (RUMs), representative of the small gas and electric "scooters" currently being imported into Canada. The first photo depicts a "skate-board style" scooter. The scooter is basically a platform on two wheels with a handle bar and small motor, but no seat. The second photo depicts a scooter with a step through body design. The second scooter appears to have foldable handle bars and a removable seat. Information was not provided on the dimensions, power, or speed capacities of the scooters.
Your first question asked if U.S. manufacturers are required to affix a valid, 17 digit VIN to the type of vehicles depicted in the photographs you submitted. The short answer is that all passenger cars, multipurpose passenger vehicles, trucks, buses, trailers (including trailer kits), incomplete vehicles and motorcycles are required to be assigned and equipped with a VIN. 49 CFR § 565.2. Regarding the vehicles depicted in the photos, it would first have to be determined if they were "motor vehicles." If these vehicles were "motor vehicles," and were categorized as one of the above vehicle classifications, then they would be required to be affixed with a VIN.
As previously noted, "motor vehicle" is defined at 49 U.S.C. § 30102(a)(6) as:
[A] vehicle driven or drawn by mechanical power and manufactured primarily for use on the public streets, roads, and highways, but does not include a vehicle operated only on a rail line.
When determining if a vehicle is manufactured primarily for use on the public streets, roads and highways, NHTSA will first look to see if the vehicle has on-road capabilities. Historically, if a vehicle has on-road capabilities, the agency has used a maximum speed capability of 20 mph, along with other vehicle characteristics, to divide motor vehicles from non-motor vehicles.  While a speed capability of 20 mph or less has not by itself meant that a vehicle is not considered a motor vehicle, a speed capability greater than 20 mph makes it much likelier that a vehicle will be used on the public highways and considered a motor vehicle.
Regarding a motorized scooter without any seat, such as the one in the first photo you submitted, the agency has in the past concluded that this type of vehicle is not a "motor vehicle."  As to the second scooter, the agency would rely on the vehicle’s characteristics (e.g., dimensions, speed capabilities) along with its intended use in order to make a determination. We note that in the upcoming months, the agency intends to further address the classification of two and three wheeled vehicles as motor vehicles through a notice in the Federal Register.
Once a vehicle is determined to be a "motor vehicle" and it falls within one of the vehicle classifications listed in Part 565, then a manufacturer is required to assign and affix a VIN to that vehicle. Part 565 is limited in applicability to motor vehicles, regardless of whether they are manufactured in the U.S. or abroad. Thus the SAE should only generate and assign WMIs to motor vehicle manufacturers. 
Approximately six months ago, NHTSA’s Office of Vehicle Safety Compliance (OVSC) discovered that the SAE had been issuing WMIs to companies that were not manufacturers of motor vehicles but instead manufacturers of off-road vehicles or motor vehicle equipment, such as motorcycle frames, etc. 
This has created a number of problems. Under the existing, ISO-compatible system, there is only a finite and rapidly diminishing number of WMIs available for assignment to motor vehicle manufacturers producing 500 or more vehicles per year. Our current count shows only 604 WMIs available for assignment, and these could be exhausted within the next several years, if current trends continue.
In light of the above, OVSC directed the SAE to cease issuing new WMIs to off-road vehicle manufacturers and to begin to rescind the WMIs erroneously issued to off-road vehicle manufacturers and off-road vehicle equipment manufacturers, as those errors were discovered. OVSC took this action to assure the proper functioning of the VIN system for its intended purpose.
However, manufacturers of off-road vehicles raised the issue of State law provisions that require reporting of a "vehicle identification number" for off-road vehicles. While State regulations generally do not reference Part 565, some States are insisting on VINs that comply with that regulation, and in some cases, manufacturers who do not have such VINs have been fined.
To provide time for manufacturers of off-road vehicles to resolve these issues, we instructed the SAE to stay the rescission of WMIs previously issued to off-road vehicle manufacturers until January 1, 2005. SAE is currently working with off-road vehicle manufacturers to develop a system for WMIs issued to such manufacturers. However, we also instructed the SAE not to issue any new Part 565 WMIs to off-road vehicle manufacturers, so as to not exacerbate the existing problem.
If you have any further questions concerning these matters, please contact Mr. Chris Calamita of my staff at (202) 366-2992.
 See letter to Mr. Dan Strauser; September 5, 2001 (enclosed).
 See letter to Mr. Andrew Grubb, June 12, 1995 (enclosed). "A motorcycle is defined as ‘a motor vehicle with motive power having a seat or saddle for the use of the rider and designed to travel on not more than three wheels in contact with the ground’ [49 CFR 571.3]."
 Importers are required to use the VIN assigned by the original manufacturer. 49 CFR § 565.5.
 See letter to Kathy R. Van Kleeck, May 21, 2003 (enclosed).