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Petition for Exemption From the Federal Motor Vehicle Motor Theft Prevention Standard; Mazda

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National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, Department of Transportation (DOT).


Grant of petition for exemption.


This document grants in full the petition of Mazda Motor Corporation (Mazda), for an exemption of a high-theft line, the Mazda MX-5 Miata, from the parts-marking requirements of the Federal motor vehicle theft prevention standard. This petition is granted because the agency has determined that the antitheft device to be placed on the line as standard equipment is likely to be as effective in reducing and deterring motor vehicle theft as compliance with the parts-marking requirements of the Theft Prevention Standard.


The exemption granted by this notice is effective beginning with model year (MY) 2005.

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Ms. Rosalind Proctor, Office of International Policy, Fuel Economy and Consumer Programs, NHTSA, 400 Seventh Street, SW., Washington, DC 20590. Ms. Proctor's phone number is (202) 366-0846. Her fax number is (202) 493-2290.

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In a petition dated June 2, 2004, Mazda Motor Corporation (Mazda), requested exemption from the parts-marking requirements of the theft prevention standard (49 CFR Part 541) for the Mazda MX-5 Miata vehicle line beginning with MY 2005. The petition requested an exemption from parts-marking pursuant to 49 CFR 543, Exemption from Vehicle Theft Prevention Standard, based on the installation of an antitheft device as standard equipment for the entire vehicle line.

Section 33106(b)(2)(D) of Title 49, United States Code, gave the Secretary of Transportation the authority to grant a manufacturer one parts-marking exemption per model year for vehicle lines produced MYs' 1997-2000. However, it does not address the Start Printed Page 58593contingency of what to do after model year 2000 in the absence of a decision under Section 33103(d). 49 U.S.C. 33103(d)(3), states that the number of lines for which the agency can grant an exemption is to be decided after the Attorney General completes a review of the effectiveness of antitheft devices and finds that antitheft devices are an effective substitute for parts-marking. The Attorney General has not yet made a finding pursuant to 49 U.S.C. 33103(d)(3), Long Range Review of Effectiveness, and has not decided the number of lines, if any, for which the agency will be authorized to grant an exemption. Upon consultation with the Department of Justice, both agencies determined that the appropriate reading of Section 33103(d) is that the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) may continue to grant parts-marking exemptions for not more than one additional model line each year, as specified for model years 1997-2000 by 49 U.S.C. 33106(b)(2)(C). This is the level contemplated by the Act for the period before the Attorney General's decision. The final decision on whether to continue granting exemptions will be made by the Attorney General at the conclusion of the review pursuant to Section 33103(d)(3).

Mazda's submission is considered a complete petition as required by 49 CFR 543.7, in that it meets the general requirements contained in 543.5 and the specific content requirements of 543.6.

In its petition, Mazda provided a detailed description and diagram of the identity, design, and location of the components of the antitheft device for the new vehicle line. The antitheft device is a transponder-based electronic immobilizer system. Mazda will install its antitheft device, a transponder based electronic engine immobilizer antitheft system as standard equipment on its MX-5 Miata vehicle line beginning with MY 2005.

In order to ensure the reliability and durability of the device, Mazda conducted tests based on its own specified standards. Mazda provided a detailed list of the tests conducted and stated its belief that the device is reliable and durable since it has complied with Mazda's specified requirements for each test. The components of the immobilizer system are tested in climatic, mechanical and chemical environments all keys and key cylinders should meet unique strength tests against attempts of mechanical overriding. The test conducted were for thermal shock, high temperature exposure, low-temperature exposure, thermal cycle, humidity temperature cycling, functional, random vibration, dust, water, connector and lead/lock strength, chemical resistance, electromagnetic field, power line variations, DC stresses, electrostatic discharge, transceiver/key strength and transceiver mounting strength. Mazda's antitheft device is activated when the driver/operator turns off the engine using the properly coded ignition key. When the ignition key is turned to the “start” position, the transponder (located in the head of the key) transmits a code to the powertrain's electronic control module. Mazda stated that encrypted communications exist between the immobilizer system control function and the powertrain's electronic control module. The vehicle's engine can only be started if the transponder code matches the code previously programmed into the powertrain's electronic control module. If the code does not match, the engine will be disabled. Mazda stated that there are approximately 18 quintillion different codes and at the time of manufacture, each transponder is hard-coded with a unique code. Mazda also stated that its immobilizer system incorporates a light-emitting diode (LED) that provides information as to when the system is “unset”. When the ignition is initially turned to the “START” position, a one-second continuous LED indicates the proper “unset” state of the device. When the ignition is turned to “OFF”, a flashing LED indicates the “unset” state of the system. The integration of the setting/unsetting device (transponder) into the ignition key prevents any inadvertent activation of the system.

Mazda believes that it would be very difficult for a thief to defeat this type of electronic immobilizer system. Mazda believes that its proposed device is reliable and durable because it does not have any moving parts, nor does it require a separate battery in the key. Any attempt to slam-pull the ignition lock cylinder, for example, will have no effect on a thief's ability to start the vehicle. If the correct code is not transmitted to the electronic control module there is no way to mechanically override the system and start the vehicle. Furthermore, Mazda stated that drive-away thefts are virtually eliminated with the sophisticated design and operation of the electronic engine immobilizer system which makes conventional theft methods (i.e., hot-wiring or attacking the ignition-lock cylinder) ineffective.

Mazda reported that in MY 1996, the proposed system was installed on certain U.S. Ford vehicles as standard equipment (i.e. on all Ford Mustang GT and Cobra models, Ford Taurus LX, SHO and Sable LS models). In MY 1997, the immobilizer system was installed on the Ford Mustang vehicle line as standard equipment. When comparing 1995 model year Mustang vehicle thefts (without immobilizer), with MY 1997 Mustang vehicle thefts (with immobilizer), data from the National Insurance Crime Bureau showed a 70% reduction in theft. (Actual NCIC reported thefts were 500 for MY 1995 Mustang, and 149 thefts for MY 1997 Mustang.)

Mazda's proposed device, as well as other comparable devices that have received full exemptions from the parts-marking requirements, lack an audible or visible alarm. Therefore, these devices cannot perform one of the functions listed in 49 CFR 543.6(a)(3), that is, to call attention to unauthorized attempts to enter or move the vehicle. However, theft data have indicated a decline in theft rates for vehicle lines that have been equipped with devices similar to that which Mazda proposes. In these instances, the agency has concluded that the lack of a visual or audio alarm has not prevented these antitheft devices from being effective protection against theft.

On the basis of this comparison, Mazda has concluded that the proposed antitheft device is no less effective than those devices installed on lines for which NHTSA has already granted full exemption from the parts-marking requirements.

Based on the evidence submitted by Mazda, the agency believes that the antitheft device for the Mazda vehicle line is likely to be as effective in reducing and deterring motor vehicle theft as compliance with the parts-marking requirements of the Theft Prevention Standard (49 CFR 541).

The agency concludes that the device will provide four of the five types of performance listed in § 543.6(a)(3): Promoting activation; preventing defeat or circumvention of the device by unauthorized persons; preventing operation of the vehicle by unauthorized entrants; and ensuring the reliability and durability of the device.

As required by 49 U.S.C. 33106 and 49 CFR 543.6(a)(4) and (5), the agency finds that Mazda has provided adequate reasons for its belief that the antitheft device will reduce and deter theft. This conclusion is based on the information Mazda provided about its device. For the foregoing reasons, the agency hereby grants in full Mazda's petition for exemption for its vehicle line from the parts-marking requirements of 49 CFR part 541.

If Mazda decides not to use the exemption for this line, it should Start Printed Page 58594formally notify the agency. If such a decision is made, the line must be fully marked according to the requirements under 49 CFR 541.5 and 541.6 (marking of major component parts and replacement parts).

NHTSA notes that if Mazda wishes in the future to modify the device on which this exemption is based, the company may have to submit a petition to modify the exemption. Section 543.7(d) states that a part 543 exemption applies only to vehicles that belong to a line exempted under this part and equipped with the antitheft device on which the line's exemption is based. Further, § 543.9(c)(2) provides for the submission of petitions “to modify an exemption to permit the use of an antitheft device similar to but differing from the one specified in that exemption.”

The agency wishes to minimize the administrative burden that § 543.9(c)(2) could place on exempted vehicle manufacturers and itself. The agency did not intend in drafting part 543 to require the submission of a modification petition for every change to the components or design of an antitheft device. The significance of many such changes could be de minimis. Therefore, NHTSA suggests that if the manufacturer contemplates making any changes the effects of which might be characterized as de minimis, it should consult the agency before preparing and submitting a petition to modify.

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Authority: 49 U.S.C. 33106; delegation of authority at 49 CFR 1.50.

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Issued on: September 24, 2004.

Stephen R. Kratzke,

Associate Administrator for Rulemaking.

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[FR Doc. 04-21977 Filed 9-29-04; 8:45 am]