Lawrence A. Beyer, Esq.
674 Lake Road
Webster, NY 14580
Dear Mr. Beyer:
This responds to your letter asking us whether the Goldhofer Modular Trailer Model THP SL (Model THP SL) is a motor vehicle within the meaning of 49 U.S.C. Chapter 301. As explained below, the answer is no.
By way of background information, NHTSA interprets and enforces the laws under which the Federal motor vehicle safety standards are promulgated. NHTSAs statute at 49 U.S.C. Section 30102(a)(6) defines the term motor vehicle as follows:
a vehicle driven or drawn by mechanical power manufactured primarily for use on public streets, roads, and highways, but does not include a vehicle operated only on a rail line.
Further, if a vehicle is a motor vehicle, it must comply with all applicable Federal motor vehicle safety standards in order to be sold or imported into the United States (49 U.S.C. 30112(a)).
Description of the Goldhofer Modular Trailer Model THP SL
In your letter, you state that the Model THP SL is designed for ultra heavy duty applications for short distance transportation of goods from 80 to 10,000 tons (160,000 to 20,000,000 pounds) on uneven and/or constricted locations. The Model THP SL is described as being 9 feet 10 inches (118 inches or 3 meters) wide. Each module has six or eight independently controlled axles with four tires per axle. Each axle is controlled for steering, height and angle. Each axle can be raised by 16 inches and tilted 60 degrees independently, in order to ensure load stability. These actions can be either automatic or controlled by a Tillerman who monitors the movement of the unit.
The units are designed to be operated singly or in combination with other units, either following each other or side to side, depending on the material being transported. We note that two units transported side by side take up a width of at least 236 inches, or almost 20 feet. You state that when loaded, the maximum speed of the trailers is 20 miles per hour.
You included a series of photographs depicting the Model THP SL by itself, and showing the types of loads the Model THP SL carries in an open field, and in what appear to be shipyards or ports.
Intended Uses of the Goldhofer Modular Trailer Model THP SL
You state that your clients use for the Model THP SL is short distance transport of unusually large cargo on job sites such as petrochemical refineries, power plants, utility substations, shipping ports and rail sidings. Your client estimates that well over 90 percent of the use will be at those locations. You stated that those uses will be limited due to logistics and expense. In order to travel on the public roads, permits must be issued, there must be road closures, police escorts, utility equipment (power lines) must be relocated, and there are weight restrictions. You state that even crossing a street requires road closing and permits and can take most of a day.
You state that the payloads are typically located at large facilities located adjacent to locations engaged in long distance shipping such as ship yards and rail-heads. As an example, you provide the situation where a new steam turbine is delivered via ship. The turbine itself is too heavy and cumbersome to be lifted out of the hold of the ship with a crane. However, the Model THP SLs specialized design allows it to be positioned on the ship to take on and transport a load that no other equipment can. The turbine is then transported to another means of transport such as rail or a barge. The Model THP SL is then used to move the turbine from the intermediate transporter to the final destination, the generator. Due to its design, the Model THP SL is able to be placed directly adjacent to the turbine for relatively easy loading. The Model THP SL is able to be maneuvered to the desired location for its placement at the generator facility. You state that this sort of job would take well over a week to complete.
You state that when the Model THP SL is not in use (presumably, when it is not carrying a load), it is typically transported to and from the job site on a semi-trailer.
Finally, you state that the Model THP SL can also be used as a mobile construction platform. The Model THP SL can locate a temporary electric generator or substation near a unit which requires service, thus minimizing service disruption. The Model THP SL can also be used to remove broken equipment from one area to be repaired on site.
As we have stated in other interpretation letters, whether the agency will consider vehicles, including vehicles that can be used in construction, or similar equipment, to be motor vehicles depends on their use. It is the agency's position that the statutory definition of motor vehicle does not encompass mobile construction equipment, such as cranes and scrapers, which use the highway only to move between job sites and which typically spend extended periods of time at a single job site.
Even if the Model THP SL may, on occasion, travel on public roads, such on-highway use of the vehicle is merely incidental and is not the primary purpose for which the vehicle was manufactured. There are instances where vehicles, such as dump trucks, frequently use the highway going to and from job sites, and stay at a job site for only a limited time. Such vehicles are considered motor vehicles for purposes of the Safety Act, since the on-highway use is more than "incidental." Clearly the intended uses of the Model THP SL are not analogous to how dump trucks are used.
Based on the information provided with your letter, we believe that the on-highway use of your clients product to be merely incidental and is not the primary purpose for which it was manufactured. Therefore, we do not consider the Goldhofer Modular Trailer Model THP SL to be a motor vehicle.
Please note that the views expressed in this letter are limited to the Goldhofer Modular Trailer Model THP SL. This letter is not generally applicable to all Goldhofer vehicles.
I hope this information is helpful. If you have any further questions, please contact Dorothy Nakama of my staff at this address or at (202) 366-2992.
O. Kevin Vincent
Ref: Part 571
 See, for example, the interpretation letter of October 20, 2003 to Schiller International Corp, signed by Jacqueline Glassman, NHTSA Chief Counsel.