441 N. Grand Avenue, Suite 350
Nogales, AZ 85621
Dear Mr. Padres:
This is in reply to your e-mail of December 30, 1996, asking for an interpretation of the regulations of this agency as they may affect a business plan you wish to implement. We regret the delay in responding to you but your letter presents novel and complex questions.
You would like to take a 1969 VW Beetle to Mexico and "restore or replace all the parts permitted by the laws, that would continue to make it a 1969 VW Beetle." You refer to 49 CFR 571.7(e) and interpret it as saying that "placing a new body on an old chassis does not produce a new vehicle so long as the engine, transmission, and drive axle (as a minimum) are not new and at least two of which were taken from the same vehicle. You intend to " place a new body on the old chassis" which, to you, would mean that it "would still be a 1969 vehicle." As part of your modifications you would either retain or replace with DOT certified items the original brake hoses, lamps and reflectors, tires, rims, glazing and seat belt assemblies. You would then bring the vehicle back to the United States.
First of all, Sec. 571.7(e) does not apply to passenger cars such as VW Beetles; it applies to trucks. However, according to long-standing agency interpretations, the addition of a new body to the chassis of a passenger car previously in use does not result in the creation of a new motor vehicle that must comply with the Federal motor vehicle safety standards. On the basis of the limited information you have provided us, we do not believe that the parts you have listed that you may replace, together with the body, would exceed this threshold. The vehicle would remain a 1969 model under our interpretations.
Further, our importation regulations do not require that a vehicle comply with the Federal motor vehicle safety standards if it is 25 years old or older (49 CFR 591.5(i)(1)). This means that the modified 1969 Beetle, when imported into the United States after the modifications are made in Mexico, need not comply with the Federal motor vehicle safety standards.
However, if the refurbishing involves sufficient manufacturing operations, the vehicle would be considered a newly manufactured one. This means that it would be required to meet all applicable safety standards in effect at the time of refurbishing (manufacture), and to be certified as conforming to those standards. Because of the variety of fact situations involved, the agency has found it difficult to establish a general requirement, and it provides opinions on a case by case basis.
We are unsure of your connection with Beetlemex, Inc., which shares your street and suite address in Nogales. Beetlemex is advertising on the internet that it is "bringing brand new Beetles into the U.S.", each of which is "officially a restored vehicle, but is actually a brand new Beetle." Beetlemex instals "brand new parts taken off from a brand new sedan" and "at the end, we have a Beetle that has most of the parts from a brand new Beetle." Statements such as these raise the possibility that the threshold has been exceeded. The ad also states that Beetlemex registers and titles the vehicles as well. In our interpretations, we consider it important that a vehicle equipped with a new body on an old chassis would continue to carry its original model year designation for state registration purposes, in this instance, 1969. If the vehicles refurbished by Beetlemex have been registered and titled as 1996 or 1997 models, that is prima facie evidence to us that the modifications have gone beyond what is permissible for the original vehicle to retain its characterization as one manufactured in 1969.
If you have any questions, you may call Taylor Vinson of this office (202-366-5263).
Acting Chief Counsel