Project Manager, International
N-0975 Oslo, Norway
Dear Mr. Malaterre:
This responds to your letter of February 8, 1996, asking how Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard No. 102, Transmission Shift Lever Sequence, Starter Interlock, and Transmission Braking Effect, would apply to the CityBee, an electric vehicle you produce. Specifically, you wanted to know whether your electric transmission, with one forward speed, would be regarded as a manual or an automatic transmission. As discussed below, we would consider your transmission an automatic transmission.
By way of background information, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) does not provide approvals of motor vehicles or motor vehicle equipment. Under 49 U.S.C. Chapter 301, manufacturers are required to ensure that their vehicles and equipment meet applicable requirements. The following represents our opinion based on the facts provided in your letter.
You stated that the transmission of your vehicle only has 1 gear and a differential. In other words, there is no usual gear box. There are 3 possible modes: "drive," "neutral," "reverse." These modes are activated by an electric switch which puts on the electricity in 1 way (for drive) when activated clockwise from neutral, or the other (for reverse, counter-clockwise), or shut it off (for neutral, in middle position). The electric gear switch is located on the middle of the dashboard. The status of the gear switch is always displayed in view of the driver at all times, both on the dashboard and the instrument panel.
As you noted in your letter, Standard No. 102 specifies different requirements depending on whether a transmission is an automatic transmission or a manual transmission. You stated that your analysis leads you to the conclusion that your transmission is closer to being a simplified "manual transmission" than an "automatic transmission." However, you did not explain why you reached that conclusion.
Standard No. 102 does not include definitions for "automatic transmission" or "manual transmission." However, based on the nature of your transmission and the language and overall purposes of Standard No. 102, we conclude that your transmission would be considered an automatic transmission. We have considered the following factors in reaching that conclusion.
First, we believe that a driver would perceive your transmission as "automatic," since he or she would not manually shift gears as part of the driving task.
Second, each of Standard No. 102's requirements for automatic transmissions is relevant to your transmission, to the extent that it is applicable.
Third, we are not aware of any arguments why your transmission should not be considered "automatic." Your transmission does differ from most automatic transmissions in having only one forward speed. However, the language of Standard No. 102 indicates that a transmission with only one forward speed may be classified as Aautomatic.@ In specifying requirements for automatic transmissions, S3.1.2 states that, "in vehicles having more than one forward transmission gear ratio, one forward drive position shall provide a greater degree of engine braking than the highest speed transmission ratio . . ." The agency included the language at the beginning of that quotation in light of one-speed automatic transmissions. (This is explained in a Report on the Development of the Initial Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards, published by NHTSA (then called the National Traffic Safety Agency) on March 17, 1967.)
I note that, on February 2, 1995, in an interpretation letter to Solectria Corporation, the agency stated, "NHTSA has previously concluded that electric vehicles with single speed transmissions are excluded from Standard No. 102 (58 FR at 4646)." Unfortunately, that statement does not appear to be an accurate description of the referenced authority. On further review, we believe there is reason to conclude that Standard No. 102 does
apply to electric vehicles with single speed transmissions. As indicated above, however, the transmission braking effect requirement only applies to vehicles having more than one forward transmission gear ratio.
If you have any further questions, please feel free to contact Paul Atelsek of my staff at this address or by telephone at (202) 366-2992.
Samuel J. Dubbin Chief Counsel ref:102 d:5/3/96