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Vehicle With a Split Personality: Is It a Car or Is It a Truck?

March 15, 2000|John O'Dell

Actually, it's both. Even government agencies don't necessarily agree.

The Environmental Protection Agency classifies the PT Cruiser as a car, but the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration may yet decide to call it a truck.

The EPA has rated the Cruiser a car for emissions purposes and rates it a LEV, or low-emissions vehicle, in most states. But a little extra tuning and tweaking of the emissions-control system earned the Cruiser a rating as a SULEV--or super-low-emissions vehicle--for those that will be sold in California, New York, Massachusetts, Vermont and Maine.

But why a car? One surmise is that the agency based its decision on the vehicle's car-like unibody platform.

It shouldn't matter to buyers, but Chrysler insists that the Cruiser is a light truck, and it expects a favorable ruling on that score by NHTSA.

The safety agency's decision is important to parent DaimlerChrysler because the agency administers CAFE, the corporate average fuel economy standards that all auto makers must meet.

The German-American company's Dodge and Jeep units sell a lot of gas-guzzling pickup trucks and sport-utility vehicles, so a 25-mile-per-gallon Cruiser classified as a light truck goes a long way toward helping it meet the truck fleet average of 20.7 mpg for all pickups, vans and SUVs combined.

A NHTSA spokesman says the agency has not evaluated the Cruiser, because Chrysler hasn't started claiming its gas mileage yet.

The spokesman pointed out, however, that the vehicle meets the safety agency's definition of a light truck because, when the Cruiser's rear seats are removed, the floor area behind the front seats is a flat surface.

Tom Gale, Chrysler's design chief, says the Cruiser was specifically designed to meet that definition.

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