Mini-truck dealer Pat Malloy just wants to make a living. And Rep. Jon Becker, a Fort Morgan Republican, hopes to help.
Malloy lives outside of Eaton, in rural Weld County. For the last couple years, he’s bought and sold mini-trucks, known as Kei — the Japanese word for small. These tiny Japanese-built trucks have gained popularity among Colorado farmers and ranchers. Kei usually weigh less than 2,000 pounds and are more fuel-efficient than their bigger cousins, the heavy-duty quarter-ton or bigger pickups.
Malloy bought a mini-truck and fixed it up, intending to drive it around the area. But due to a lifelong genetic condition, his vision deteriorated. He became legally blind and could no longer drive.
Initially, Malloy said he feared losing his vision would make him give up his freedom and independence. He was depressed and angry.
But before Malloy had even finished fixing up the mini-truck, someone wanted to buy it. He then realized mini-trucks might make him a decent living that would keep him independent and allow him to continue living the rural lifestyle he loves.
So Malloy obtained a sales-tax license for selling mini-trucks for agricultural use. The vehicle’s cabs are comfortable, with heat and air conditioning, and have a payload of up to 1,200 pounds. Kei are affordable, costing between $1,000 to $12,000.
Last year, state Rep. Dianne Primavera, a Broomfield Democrat, introduced a bill in the General Assembly to allow people to drive mini-trucks on roads with speed limits of 55 miles per hour or less, if their vehicles were registered and insured. Malloy helped Primavera write the bill, and he testified on it as well.
That earned him unwelcome attention from the state Department of Revenue, which sent him a cease-and-desist letter, stating he was illegally selling “power sports” vehicles. Malloy pointed out his sales tax license was for mini-trucks for agricultural use. They’re not power sports vehicles, which state law defines as 4-wheel ATVs and other vehicles used for recreational purposes.
Malloy said mini-trucks don’t qualify as recreational vehicles. They aren’t intended for off-road use, nor do they have the suspension to be used that way. “It’s a tool…nothing recreational or fun about it,” Malloy said. “You can’t race around with it or drive it in deep mud.”
Eventually, after emails and calls from Malloy, his attorney, and Primavera, the department backed off.
In the meantime, Primavera had to let the bill die, mostly because of opposition from the Colorado Auto Dealers Association and the Colorado State Patrol.
But the idea of allowing mini-trucks on local roads hasn’t gone away.
During the summer, an interim transportation committee gave the idea a green light, and Becker is attempting to get approval from the General Assembly this session.
His bill, HB 1029, would let mini-trucks on roads with speed limits under 55 mph. When the bill comes up for its first hearing this week, he plans to amend it to limit the trucks’ use to counties with populations under 60,000. That would allow residents in 53 of the state’s 64 counties to drive kei trucks on rural roads.
It’s not a novel idea: 22 states, including Nebraska, allow mini-trucks limited access to roads. None allow them on interstates.
Under Becker’s bill, mini-truck dealers would have to be licensed by the state, but the bill exempts anyone selling them before July 1, 2015. That would allow Malloy to continue selling his trucks from his home.
Just like last year, the bill has been given a red light from the Colorado Auto Dealers’ Association and the Colorado State Patrol.
Colorado Auto Dealers’ Association President Tim Jackson said that their objections to licensing Kei trucks are based on several factors, chiefly that the trucks don’t meet state and federal safety and emissions standards.
“When you look at changing Colorado law to allow a vehicle to be admitted to the highways that isn’t required to have the same safety and emission standards as most vehicles,” it creates a loophole in state law, Jackson said. This should concern manufacturers who spend millions, even billions of dollars to comply with federal safe vehicle and emission standards so that their vehicles can be licensed to be on the roads.
“It doesn’t seem logical that the state would create this kind of loophole,” he added.
The bill will be reviewed by the House Transportation and Energy Committee on February 3.