USA Banner

Official US Government Icon

Official websites use .gov
A .gov website belongs to an official government organization in the United States.

Secure Site Icon

Secure .gov websites use HTTPS
A lock ( ) or https:// means you’ve safely connected to the .gov website. Share sensitive information only on official, secure websites.

U.S. Department of Transportation U.S. Department of Transportation Icon United States Department of Transportation United States Department of Transportation

AutoAbility, LLC - June 25, 2014

Mr. Charles Fortinberry
Chief Executive Officer
8105 Big Lake Road
Clarkston, MI 48346

Dear Mr. Fortinberry:

I write in response to your July 24, 2013 letter requesting a determination by the Federal Transit Administration (FTA) as to whether AutoAbility, LLC’s (AutoAbility) conversion processes on minivans, such as the Chrysler Town & Country and the Dodge Caravan, into wheelchair-accessible vehicles are sufficient to meet the Buy America requirements for final assembly under 49 C.F.R. § 661.11. For the reasons set forth below, I find that the manufacturing activities that take place in AutoAbility’s Clarkston, MI, plant are sufficient to constitute final assembly for minivans converted for wheelchair access.

I. Background

a. Procedural History

On June 21, 2010, FTA issued a blanket Buy America waiver for final assembly of minivans and minivan chassis based upon its determination that there was no manufacturer that was willing and able to perform final assembly on these types of vehicles in the United States. [1]

On December 3, 2012, FTA rescinded the Buy America waiver for final assembly of minivans and minivan chassis because a vehicle—the Vehicle Production Group’s MV-1—that meets the Buy America requirements for final assembly is domestically available. [2]

On June 28, 2013, FTA made two separate final assembly determinations for Braun Corporation (Braun) and ElDorado National-Kansas (ElDorado) vehicles. FTA found that Braun’s conversion processes on incomplete Chrysler or Dodge minivans into a wheelchair-accessible Braun Entervan, via a sliding side door ramp, were sufficient to meet the final assembly requirement under 49 C.F.R. § 661.11. Similarly, FTA found that final assembly of ElDorado’s Amerivans took place in the United States as required by 49 C.F.R. § 661.11.

On July 24, 2013, AutoAbility requested an FTA determination on whether AutoAbility’s conversion processes on Chrysler and Dodge minivans into wheelchair accessible minivans, via a rear entry ramp, were sufficient to meet the final assembly requirements under 49 C.F.R. § 661.11. On September 6, 2013, FTA requested additional information on AutoAbility’s conversion processes. On October 7, 2013, AutoAbility provided the requested information. [3]

b. AutoAbility’s Manufacturing Processes

AutoAbility’s manufacturing and conversion processes to the Chrysler and Dodge minivans take place in Clarkston, MI. These processes consist of the following:

  • (1) The interior seating, trim panels, and floor are removed.
  • (2) The wiring harness is divided and relocated on each side of the interior.
  • (3) The fuel tank, fuel cell, vapor canister are removed.
  • (4) The rear suspension is modified and new heavy duty shock absorbers are installed.
  • (5) A manufactured lowered floor and filler plates are welded into place.
  • (6) The wiring harness is re-routed to accommodate the new floor.
  • (7) Rear hatch and lowered floor alignments are performed.
  • (8) Brake lines are installed.
  • (9) Undercoating applied.
  • (10) The steel fuel cell, either Original Equipment Manufacturer (OEM) or an aftermarket one, its components, the exhaust system, and fuel cell skid plate are installed.
  • (11) The suspension is installed.
  • (12) The wheelchair ramp, which becomes the lower half of a double rear door, is installed.
  • (13) A new full length carpet or commercial grade vinyl is installed.
  • (14) The seats—Original Equipment Manufacturer (OEM) seating, OEM seating mounted on AutoAbility’s seat bases, and aftermarket seating—are installed.
  • (15) Wheelchair restraint systems are installed, including floor mounts and lap or shoulder belts.
  • (16) The interior panels are installed.

In addition, AutoAbility inspects and tests the completed vehicle, provides a limited manufacturer’s warranty, and certifies as the final stage manufacturer of the completed vehicle per the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s (NHTSA) regulations 49 C.F.R. parts 567 and 568, and the Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards (FMVSS).

AutoAbility states that it currently employs 23 full-time employees and one part-time employee, and that it has experienced consistent growth over the past several years and has the manufacturing capacities and capabilities to support continued growth.

Based upon the information provided above, AutoAbility asserts that its conversion activities are sufficient to meet FTA’s Buy America regulations at 49 C.F.R. § 661.11 and Appendix D and is requesting confirmation by FTA.

II. Buy America

a. Buy America requirements for Buses and Rail Cars

Under 49 U.S.C. § 5323(j)(1), FTA may not obligate funds for a project unless the steel, iron, and manufactured goods used in a project are produced in the United States. For rolling stock procurements, this requirement does not apply if the cost of the components produced in the United States is more than 60 percent of the cost of all components and final assembly takes place in the United States. [4] Final assembly is defined as “the creation of the end product from individual elements brought together for that purpose through application of manufacturing processes.” [5]

The typical minimum final assembly requirements for rolling stock are further provided in Appendix D to § 661.11 and distinguished between minimum final assembly requirements for rail cars and buses. FTA provided guidance on the final assembly requirement for buses in a March 18, 1997 Dear Colleague Letter on Buy America: Pre-Award and Post-Delivery Audits, which has been added to FTA’s existing regulation and is still applicable today:

In the case of a new bus, final assembly would typically include, at a minimum, the installation and interconnection of the engine, transmission, axles, including the cooling and braking systems; the installation and interconnection of the heating and air conditioning equipment; the installation of pneumatic and electrical systems, door systems, passenger seats, passenger grab rails, destination signs, wheelchair lifts; and road testing, final inspection, repairs and preparation of the vehicles for delivery. [6]

If a manufacturer’s assembly processes do not include all of the activities typically considered final assembly, the manufacturer may request an FTA determination of compliance. [7] FTA reviews these requests for compliance case by case, based upon the information provided by the manufacturer. [8]

b. Final Assembly Requirement for Minivans

For the most part, FTA addresses only the typical final assembly requirements for buses and rail cars in its regulations and guidance documents, but generally does not cover minivans. [9]

With respect to wheelchair-accessible minivans that use a slide-door ramp, FTA has found that the following conversion activities collectively constitute final assembly as required by 49 C.F.R. § 661.11(a) and (r):

  • (a) “Strip-Out”: consists of “removal of the front and rea[r] seating components . . . , interior wall and door panels, and all carpeting.”
  • (b) “Seat Re-Engineering & Modifications”: consists of “remanufactured [front seats] to be easily removable for wheelchair access” and rear seats are “modified to permit forward folding for access to a kneeling system linear actuator and a proprietary vehicle slide door/ramp controller.”
  • (c) “Subsystem Re-Engineering & Modifications”: installing new, longer, reconfigured rear brake, fuel, heat, and air conditioning and fuel lines.
  • (d) “Fuel Tank System Re-Engineering & Modifications”: removal of the original fuel tank and charcoal canister from its mid-vehicle location, rotated, relocated, and reinstalled to aft of the rear axle location. The original fuel fill pipe assembly is removed and discarded and a “new, reconfigured fuel pipe assembly is installed to meet the relocated and rotated fuel tank.”
  • (e) “Fabrication of Lowered Floor Unit Body”: fabrication of a new low floor unit body.
  • (f) “Floor Re-Engineering & Modifications”: removal of the Original Equipment Manufacturer (OEM) floor and undercarriage from the toe pan to the rear axle, adding of a new aft rear axle fuel tank support structure, a new kneeling system actuator housing and structure, a new spare tire/storage tub, and a new lowered floor structure, and various body work to accommodate the new lowered floor structure.
  • (g) “Exhaust Re-Engineering & Modifications”: removal of the heat shields, and installing a new reconfigured exhaust pipe, hanger brackets, and muffler.
  • (h) “Engine/Transmission/Front Suspension Assembly Modifications”: disconnection from the vehicle and removed, but with the engine lines and hoses left attached. Modifications are made to the engine/transmission/front suspension assembly, such as adding various types of spacing brackets, custom steering shaft extension, and two engine cradle safety bracket tube extensions. The engine/transmission/front suspension assembly is then reinstalled. In addition, a CARB compliant fuel system is installed, and the exhaust system and heat shields are installed as well.
  • (i) “Slide Door Re-Engineering & Modifications”: removal of the slide doors and modifications made to accommodate a lowered floor/wheelchair ramp entrance. The doors are then reinstalled.
  • (j) “Rear Axle & Suspension Re-Engineering & Modifications”: removal, modifications done to the sway bar mounting, and coil spring mounts, addition of a kneel chain bracket, and reinstallation of the rear axle.
  • (k) “Flooring & Walls”: installation of a marine grade flooring substrate and covering and carpet or plastic panels with carpeted inserts. Walls are covered with new interior panels and trims.
  • (l) “Rear Bumper Re-Engineering & Modifications”: involves removal of the rear bumper, reinforcing the rear bumper, and reinstalling it.
  • (m) “Wiring Re-Engineering & Modifications”: reconfiguration of the seating systems and airbag systems, and modifications to accommodate the wheelchair ramp system, slide door operation, kneel function, and other accessibility modifications.
  • (n) “Ramp”: installation of the manual or power wheelchair ramps.
  • (o) “Paint & Undercoat”: newly installed components are painted and the entire floor is undercoated.
  • (p) “Miscellaneous”: Among other things, the vehicle is inspected, weighed, and recertified by [the wheelchair minivan conversion manufacturer]. [10]

III. Discussion

Upon careful review of AutoAbility’s manufacturing processes in consultation with FTA engineers, I find that AutoAbility’s processes meet the final assembly requirement for rolling stock under 49 C.F.R. § 661.11(a) and (r). In two separate June 28, 2013 letters of interpretation, FTA found Braun and ElDorado’s conversion and manufacturing activities sufficient to meet final assembly for Buy America purposes, as discussed supra. Braun and ElDorado’s described activities are similar, if not the same, as the activities within AutoAbility’s scope of work.

AutoAbility makes substantial changes to the interior and exterior of the minivan, including, among other things, the fuel system, exhaust system, body, doors, floors, and wiring. The result of these manufacturing activities is a significantly different product from the Chrysler and Dodge minivans, which requires that AutoAbility certify as the final stage manufacturer. Therefore, AutoAbility is responsible for inspecting, testing, and certifying that the vehicle meets certain FMVSS provisions and NHTSA regulations. In addition, it provides a limited manufacturer’s warranty for its product. Therefore, AutoAbility’s activities in the United States are sufficient to rise to the level of final assembly for minivans that are converted for wheelchair accessibility.

IV. Conclusion

Based upon the foregoing, I find that AutoAbility’s manufacturing activities meet the minimum final assembly requirements under 49 C.F.R. § 661.11. This decision is limited solely to minivans that are converted for wheelchair accessibility by AutoAbility, as the final processes are described in this memorandum. Deviation from these described processes may result in a different conclusion.

If you have any questions, please contact Mary J. Lee at (202) 366-0985 or


Dana C. Nifosi
Deputy Chief Counsel

[1]. 75 Fed. Reg. 35,123.

[2]. 77 Fed. Reg. 71,673.

[3]. FTA received this information on or about October 22, 2013, once the furloughed employees returned to work.

[4]. 49 U.S.C. § 5323(j)(2)(C); 49 C.F.R. § 661.11(a).

[5]. 49 C.F.R. § 661.11(r).

[6]. See also 49 C.F.R. § 611.11 app. D, para. b.

[7]. FTA Dear Colleague Letter, March 18, 1997; 49 C.F.R. § 661.11 app. D, para. c.

[8]. 49 C.F.R. § 661.11 app. D, para. c.

[9]. See, e.g., 49 C.F.R. § 611.11 app. D.

[10]. Memorandum from Dorval R. Carter, Jr., Chief Counsel, FTA, on the determination as to whether the process by which the Braun Corporation converts incomplete Chrysler minivans into Braun Entervans satisfies FTA’s Buy America requirements for final assembly to Peter M. Rogoff, Administrator, FTA 2-3 (June 28, 2013); see also Memorandum from Dorval R. Carter, Jr., Chief Counsel, FTA, on the determination as to whether the process by which ElDorado National-Kansas converts incomplete Chrysler and Dodge minivans into Eldorado Amerivans satisfies FTA’s Buy America requirements for final assembly to Peter M. Rogoff, Administrator, FTA 2-3 (June 28, 2013).