PennDOT has told dealers the new registration process is for all scooters with VINs beginning with an "L," indicating they were made in China. Taiwanese importers have not been affected because their numbers begin with an "R."
But Yamaha says the country code it was assigned in 1991 for its Taiwanese plant begins with an "L." The Yamaha representative with whom we spoke wasn't sure why, but she guesses it was because China and Taiwan once shared country codes. The applicable scooters are the C3, Vino Classic, Vino 125, Zuma 50 and Zuma 125.
PennDOT has not questioned Yamaha's identification numbers. It does, however, have a problem with the decoders on file with the federal government. Yamaha says it has sent in corrected decoders and is waiting for the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration to update its database. Yamaha's rep says she's in open conversations with NHTSA, which has been "very helpful."
"They're a little annoyed, I think, with Pennsylvania as well," she says, adding that PennDOT has been nonresponsive.
So, inadvertently it seems, Yamaha dealers have been caught up in process intended for Chinese bikes. Even after the federal government updates Yamaha's information, if PennDOT retains its special process, most customers probably won't be willing to wait weeks before riding their scooters home.
Joe Lapchak is general manager of Yamaha dealership Speed & Sport Inc. in Bloomsburg, Penn. He reports that on Sept. 12, PennDOT sent to him an e-mail about the new process. Long ago, he says, Pennsylvania switched from paper bulletins to electronic ones. At that time he opted in to be e-mailed the bulletins, and he still gets them. A PennDOT rep tells us, however, that people can no longer opt in and must continually check for online postings.
Contrary to our earlier report, the Sept. 12 bulletin did not explicitly forbid the issuing of temporary tags. Lapchak then sold two Zuma 125s. He issued temporary tags and told the customers to expect a delay in receiving permanent ones. But on Sept. 17 he received a clarification from PennDOT saying dealers could not issue temporary tags for the applicable scooters.
"Until this is resolved, these customers are sitting on bikes they can't ride," Lapchak says. He refuses to sell any more of the applicable scooters until the ban on temporary tags is lifted. "I don't care if the scooters sit here," he says. "I'm not going to put people through this."
On Oct. 22, a month after Lapchak sent the paperwork to Harrisburg, he received a rejection notice for one of the Zumas. It said the VIN did not match the manufacturer's decoding documentation. The next day he received a rejection letter for the other Zuma. This time the letter said there was no VIN decoding letter on file with NHTSA.
Lapchak asked his local state senator to intervene with PennDOT. "He hit a wall, too," he says. "He couldn't get an answer, and that's a state senator."
Like other dealers we've interviewed, Lapchak recognizes the problem of illegal Chinese imports. Echoing them further, he says: "I totally understand what Pennsylvania is trying to do, but they went about it the wrong way."