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Interpretation ID: porschevrhs

    Walter J. Lewis, Manager
    Regulatory Affairs
    Porsche Cars North America, Inc.
    980 Hammond Drive, Suite 1000
    Atlanta, GA 30328

    Dear Mr. Lewis:

    In your letter of September 10, 2004, you requested information concerning the proper classification of a new vehicle for purposes of the Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) program.

    Specifically, you are interested in whether the agency concurs with your opinion that "an SUV [sport utility vehicle] equipped with a driver-controllable variable ride height suspension system that may not satisfy 523.5 (a) but does satisfy the four out of five criteria of 523.5 (b) (2) when the vehicle is in the off-road ride height position" should be classified as a "light truck". Your view is that the vehicle "does not need to satisfy the four-out-of-five criteria at all suspension heights in order to be deemed capable of off-highway operation". We agree that 523.5(b)(2) does not require a vehicle to meet four of the five criteria at all ride heights; however, a vehicle must meet four out of the five criteria in at least one ride height.

    By way of background, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) does not "approve" the classification of a motor vehicle. Under the statutes administered by NHTSA, it is the responsibility of the manufacturer, in the first instance, to make any necessary classifications of vehicles and to ensure that the vehicle complies with all applicable regulatory requirements. For purposes of CAFE compliance, each manufacturer must classify its vehicles consistent with the definitions contained in 49 CFR Part 523. You are interested in knowing whether a vehicle, as described above, is properly classified as a light truck for CAFE purposes. This letter provides the agency's opinion based on the facts stated above.

    Section 32901(a)(16) of Chapter 329 of Title 49 of the United States Code defines the term "passenger automobile" for CAFE purposes. The term "passenger automobile" does not include "an automobile capable of off-highway operation" that the agency decides by regulation has a significant feature (except 4-wheel drive) designed for off-highway operation and "is a 4-wheel drive vehicle or is rated at more than 6,000 pounds gross vehicle weight". In the agencys implementing regulations for vehicle classification for CAFE purposes, the definition of light truck (49 CFR Part 523.5) provides, in relevant part:

    1. A light truck is an automobile other than a passenger automobile which is either designed for off-highway operation, as described in paragraph (b) of this section, . . .
    2. An automobile capable of off-highway operation is an automobile
        1. That has 4-wheel drive; or
        2. Is rated at more than 6,000 pounds gross vehicle weight; and
      2. That has at least four of the following characteristics . . .
        1. Approach angle of not less than 28 degrees.
        2. Breakover angle of not less than 14 degrees.
        3. Departure angle of not less than 20 degrees.
        4. Running clearance of not less than 20 centimeters.
        5. Front and rear axle clearances of not less than 18 centimeters each.

    Based on the information you have provided, we conclude that the vehicle in question may be classified as a light truck on the basis of its off-highway capabilities, provided that it either has 4-wheel drive or is rated at more than 6,000 pounds gross vehicle weight. We have determined that it is appropriate, for the limited purpose of classifying the vehicle for CAFE purposes, to measure the vehicles running clearance with the vehicles adjustable suspension placed in the position(s) intended for off-road operation under real-world conditions.

    We note that this conclusion does not constitute or imply an opinion as to whether the vehicle would be classified as a passenger car, multipurpose passenger vehicle or truck for purposes of the safety standards. Definitions for classification purposes under the safety standards may be found in 571.3 of 49 CFR.


    Jacqueline Glassman
    Chief Counsel