Dear [ ]:
This responds to your letter asking about 49 CFR Part 523, Vehicle Classification, specifically whether the vehicle design you are considering would qualify as a light truck for purposes of the Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) reform regulation of this agency (amended by final rule published April 6, 2006). The agency has granted your request for confidential treatment of information contained in your letter. However, we asked for and you agreed to our including in this letter certain general descriptions of your vehicle, to facilitate a clear interpretation of the CAFE requirements in question. Based on the information you have provided to the agency and our analysis below, our answer is the vehicle could be considered a light truck, subject to certain conditions. More information is needed, however, to render a more definitive interpretation.
As you noted in your letter, the CAFE reform final rule established two primary criteria for vehicles manufactured in model years 2008 and beyond that rely on the vehicles expanded use for non-passenger carrying purposes to qualify for light truck classification (523.5(a)(ii)) (71 FR at 17650-17652 (April 6, 2006)):
1) The vehicle must be equipped with at least 3 rows of designated seating positions as standard equipment; and,
2) permit expanded use of the automobile for cargo-carrying purposes or other nonpassenger-carrying purposes through the removal or stowing of foldable or pivoting seats so as to create a flat, leveled cargo surface extending from the forwardmost point of installation of those seats to the rear of the automobiles interior.
In answering your letter, we will address both of these criteria in turn.
Three Rows of Designated Seating Positions as Standard Equipment
You have developed a vehicle design consisting of standard-equipment adjustable seating that can provide multiple arrangements. The vehicle has a drivers seat and a front outboard seating position, a second row of 3 seats, and a fixed single full size seat (as you describe it) in the vicinity where third row seats would typically be installed in a minivan. Of course, all seats, including the rearmost fixed single seat, would have to meet the definition of a designated seating position in 49 CFR 571.3(b) in order to be counted for purposes of establishing a row.
Based on the schematic drawings you provided, it appears to us that your vehicle has three rows of seats. While the common understanding of a row of seating implies two or more seats in alignment, we could consider a rearmost fixed single seat to be a row. Generally speaking, we would determine whether a single seat is a row by determining whether there is any lateral overlap between the outline of the seat and the outline of other seats fore and aft of it when viewed from the side. A seat outline would be derived from the outer limits of a seat projected laterally onto a vertical longitudinal vehicle plane. If a single seat does not overlap with any other seat when all seats are positioned as described below, we would consider the single seat to be its own row. On the other hand, if the single seat does overlap, we would consider it to be part of a row with the other seats with which it overlaps.
We would consider one or more seats aligned laterally across the width of the vehicle, when adjusted in the way described below, to constitute a row. Specifically, when the vehicle is viewed from the side from one or more points perpendicular to the vehicles longitudinal axis, the outline of the seat does not overlap the outline of a seat in front of or behind it, when:
All seat backs, if adjustable, are set to the manufacturers nominal design riding position; and
The front designated seating positions are set to the seating reference point (SgRP) position as defined by 49 CFR 571.3.
All other seating positions are set to any adjustable position.
While we are unable to reach a definitive conclusion based on the illustrations you enclosed, it appears that your vehicle meets this criterion. We note, however, that the three rows requirement does not become mandatory until model year 2012. We are considering clarifying rulemaking between now and then to improve the explanation of the requirement.
Flat, Leveled Cargo Surface
It also appears, based on the schematics of your proposed design, that the vehicle would meet the flat-floor requirement of the light truck definition (523.5(a)(ii)). The definition states that a light truck must be designed to permit expanded use of the automobile for cargo-carrying purposes or other nonpassenger-carrying purposes through the removal or stowing of foldable or pivoting seats so as to create a flat, leveled cargo surface extending from the forwardmost point of installation of those seats to the rear of the automobiles interior.
It appears to us from the pictures included with your letter that all of the rear seats in your proposed vehicle design either fold into the floor or fold and pivot to store in front of the forwardmost point of installation of these seats. We cannot provide a definitive opinion without knowing more about your vehicle, but we note that we would consider any intrusion of a seat component into the area extending backward from the forwardmost point of installation of those seats as not adhering to the flat-floor criterion.
I hope this answers your questions. If you have any further questions, please feel free to contact Rebecca Schade of my staff at (202) 366-2992.
Anthony M. Cooke
 That definition states that Designated seating position means any plain view location capable of accommodating a person at least as large as a 5th percentile adult female, if the overall seat configuration and design and vehicle design is such that the position is likely to be used as a seating position while the vehicle is in motion, except for auxiliary seating accommodations such as temporary or folding jump seats. Any bench or split-bench seat in a passenger car, truck, or multipurpose passenger vehicle with a GVWR less than 4,536 kilograms (10,000 pounds), having greater than 127 centimeters (50 inches) of hip room (measured in accordance with SAE Standard J1100(a)) shall have not less than three designated seating positions, unless the seat design or vehicle design is such that the center position cannot be used for seating. For the sole purpose of determining the classification of any vehicle sold or introduced into interstate commerce for purposes that include carrying students to and from school or related events, any location in such vehicle intended for securement of an occupied wheelchair during vehicle operation shall be regarded as four designated seating positions.