Mr. Charles Gepper
Vehicle Certification Agency
47 Samaritan Avenue
Ashland, OH 44805-3922
Dear Mr. Gepper:
This responds to your request to Mr. Coleman Sachs of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administrations (NHTSAs) Office of Vehicle Safety Compliance. You ask NHTSA to explore a means to allow SAE to issue a WMI [World Manufacturer Identifier] to a company which purchases incomplete trailer frames from U.S. manufacturers and completes them for sale in Europe. You describe a situation in which French authorities are refusing to license these vehicles until the VINs on the statutory plates have [the companys] WMIs.
Based on the information you have provided and our analysis below, our answer is that SAE is not required to issue a WMI to the company (Pratt and Whitney Power Systems (PWPS)) because PWPS appears to be an alterer under our regulations. At the same time, while we do not consider SAE required to issue a WMI to PWPS, we would not prohibit it from doing so.
In your letter, you state that PWPS purchases incomplete trailer frames from several U.S. manufacturers, that come with as completed as possibleABS controller and braking, 5th wheel pins and couplings, lighting, spray suppression, rear underrun protection, side underrun protection, tires and statutory plates. You further state that PWPS then installs a jet engine power generating system and controls to make them into part of a series of three portable generating stations sold to locations under French authority. You note additionally that PWPS completes final assembly of some systems and component installations required for EU Type Approval. As we understand this situation, PWPS is purchasing completed vehicles, with certification labels affixed by the original manufacturers, and adding components to make them into portable generating stations. So long as it is performing these operations before the vehicles are sold to their first retail purchaser, PWPS is an alterer under our regulations (49 CFR Part 567).
NHTSAs regulation (49 CFR Part 565) that establishes requirements for vehicle identification numbers (VINs) requires the VIN to be assigned by the vehicles manufacturer. 49 CFR 565.13(a) states that--
Each vehicle manufactured in one stage shall have a VIN that is assigned by the manufacturer. Each vehicle manufactured in more than one stage shall have a VIN assigned by the incomplete vehicle manufacturer. Vehicle alterers, as specified in 49 CFR 567.16, shall utilize the VIN assigned by the original manufacturer of the vehicle. [Emphasis added.]
In the case of the vehicles described in your letter, it appears that the VINs would be assigned by the U.S. manufacturers from whom PWPS purchases the units, i.e., the original vehicle manufacturer. Those U.S. manufacturers would include in those VINs their unique manufacturer identifiers, obtained from SAE International. Under NHTSAs regulations, PWPS would maintain the VIN assigned by the original vehicle manufacturer and affix to the vehicle its own label certifying that the vehicle remains in compliance with all applicable Federal motor vehicle safety standards affected by the alteration. See, 49 CFR 567.7. This label must not obscure the label affixed to the vehicle by the original manufacturer, and would not include a VIN or a WMI. If the alterations change the gross vehicle weight rating (GVWR) assigned to the vehicle by the original manufacturer, or any of the vehicles gross axle weight ratings (GAWRs), the modified values must be specified on the alterers certification label. See 49 CFR 567.7(b)(2). In addition, if the vehicle, as altered, has a different type classification from the one specified by the original manufacturer, the type as modified must be provided on the label. See 49 CFR 567.7(b)(3).
You state that the trailers are altered by PWPS for sale in Europe and that regulatory authorities in that market require the vehicles to have a VIN that incorporates a WMI assigned to PWPS. NHTSA has previously addressed whether our regulations would prohibit a company from obtaining a WMI from SAE for use on vehicles to be offered for sale outside of the U.S. See, letter to Erika Z. Jones, July 8, 1991. NHTSA stated in that letter that its contract with SAE to coordinate the assignment of manufacturer identifiers pursuant to Part 565 is naturally limited by NHTSAs statutory authority. As the agency explained, Under the National Traffic and Motor Vehicle Safety Act, NHTSA administers Federal regulations, including Part 565, relating to the manufacture, sale, introduction into interstate commerce, and/or importation of motor vehicles into the United States. Because NHTSAs contract with SAE relates to coordinating the assignment of WMIs [manufacturer identifiers] to manufacturers that manufacture motor vehicles sold or offered for sale in the United States, we concluded that
SAE has no contractual obligation to NHTSA with respect to the assignment of WMIs to manufacturers whose vehicles are not offered for sale in the United States. So long as such assignments do not confuse or obscure the meaning of the WMIs assigned for vehicles offered for sale in the United States, SAE is free to exercise its judgment as to the appropriateness of any such assignments. [Emphasis added.]
We believe that this interpretation applies to your situation. PWPS does not need a manufacturer identifier in order to comply with NHTSA regulations; it needs one to obtain a license from the French authority. Under the 1991 interpretation, we would not consider SAE to be prohibited from issuing a WMI to PWPS, so long as doing so would not confuse or obscure the meaning of the WMIs assigned for vehicles offered for sale in the United States. Note, however, that we also would not consider them required to issue one.
If you have any further questions, please do not hesitate to contact Rebecca Yoon of my staff at (202) 366-2992.
Stephen P. Wood
Acting Chief Counsel
 The WMI is included in the vehicle identification number (VIN) each manufacturer must assign its vehicle. The WMI for domestic manufacturers is obtained from SAE International under contract with NHTSA.