Goodlife Motors Corporation
Route 3, Box 250-5
Boone, North Carolina 28607
Dear Mr. Howard:
This responds to your request for an interpretation whether the "super golf car" your company is developing is a motor vehicle subject to the Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards (FMVSS). As explained below, since your golf car does not have an unusual configuration and is designed to attain speeds in excess of 20 miles per hour for use on the public roads, we would consider your golf car to be a motor vehicle.
In your letter to us, you stated that your company's super golf cars "will have a top speed of 29 miles per hour." You enclosed three photographs, each of "one model of our vehicles." One photograph shows a man sitting in the driver's seat. The size of the man in relation to the golf car makes it appear that the golf car is somewhat smaller than compact passenger cars.
The styling of your golf car is not unlike that of the prototype Volkswagen Concept 1 car, unveiled by Volkswagen at the January 1994 Detroit Auto Show. (Automotive News article with photograph of car enclosed.) Unlike conventional golf carts with straight sides, the sides of your golf cars are curved, resembling passenger cars. The photographs of all three golf cars show a raked windshield, with a single windshield wiper, front headlights, two seats, and four wheels. At least one outside rearview mirror is shown on each golf car. Two golf cars have side doors. The third has no doors. Two golf cars have no roof or other overhead cover. The third includes what appears to be a removable top, similar to that on a convertible automobile.
Based on conversations between you and Dorothy Nakama of my staff, it appears that you expect that purchasers would use your "super golf cars" to travel regularly on the public roads. In this connection, we note that you mentioned that Arizona has registered more than 23,000 golf carts for on-road use. Arizona officials have informed us that these golf carts must have motorcycle license plates.
The FMVSS apply to "motor vehicles," within the meaning of 49 U.S.C. '30102(a)(6). "Motor vehicle" is defined at section 30102(a)(6) 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.
In past interpretation letters, NHTSA has stated that vehicles that regularly use the public roads will not be considered "motor vehicles" if such vehicles have an abnormal configuration that readily distinguishes them from other vehicles and have a maximum attainable speed of 20 miles per hour or less.
Applying these criteria to your products, we note that the "super golf cars" do not have an unusual configuration, making them readily distinguishable from other motor vehicles on the road. The styling and features of your "super golf cars" make them resemble the prototype Volkswagen passenger car. Although the golf cars may be smaller than passenger cars, we cannot say that the golf cars are significantly smaller.
Further, while the weight of your vehicles (1,100 lbs. for the electric "super golf car" and 950 lbs. for the gas powered "super golf car") is less than that of most, if not all, current passenger cars, low weight alone is insufficient to prevent a vehicle from being regarded as a "motor vehicle." At one time, NHTSA excluded small motor vehicles, i.e., those whose curb weight was 1,000 lbs. or less, from the application of our safety standards. However, that exclusion was rescinded in a final rule published May 16, 1973 (38 FR 12808)(copy enclosed).
Moreover, you have stated your golf cars can attain a maximum speed of 29 miles per hour (mph). Twenty nine mph significantly exceeds 20 mph, the maximum speed at which NHTSA has stated that a vehicle designed to travel on the public roads would not be considered a "motor vehicle." Twenty nine mph is also almost the same speed (30 mph) specified for some compliance testing of passenger cars for such FMVSS as Standard No. 301, Fuel system integrity and Standard No. 208, Occupant crash protection.
For these reasons, we conclude that the "super golf car" as described above is a "motor vehicle" subject to all applicable FMVSS.
As a manufacturer of a motor vehicle, you have several options. One is, of course, to comply with the current safety standards. Another is to petition the agency to amend the current standards so as to accommodate any special compliance problems that a small car might experience. In the 1973 finalrule terminating the exclusion of lightweight vehicles, NHTSA stated that a manufacturer has the option of petitioning for amendment of any standard it feels is impracticable or inappropriate for lightweight vehicles. Finally, you may have the option of petitioning for temporary exemption from one or more standards upon one of the bases provided in 49 U.S.C. 30113 General exemptions. The petitioning procedure is described in NHTSA's regulations at 49 CFR part 555 Temporary Exemption from Motor Vehicle Safety Standards. You should understand that exemptions are primarily granted as an interim measure to give small manufacturers a chance to come into compliance. You should also understand that exemptions are typically given for only a select number of the standards applicable to an exempted vehicle. Across-the-board exemptions from all standards have not been granted.
I hope this information is helpful. If you have any questions, please feel free to contact Dorothy Nakama of my staff at (202) 366-2992.
Philip R. Recht Chief Counsel