POSTED ON JUNE 18, 2008:
First of Mini
New law paves the way for Japanese mini-trucks to roam Tulsa streets
Hip My Ride. "They're like European smart cars, but Okie-style," state Rep. Don Armes told UTW.
They're somewhat of an exotic species here in Tulsa, but Japanese mini-trucks might soon be as prevalent in urban and suburban Oklahoma as they are in Asia, thanks to a new state law that passed this year.
"They're like European smart cars, but Okie-style," state Rep. Don Armes told UTW.
The Republican from Faxon is one of the lawmakers responsible for making them street legal, starting in November when his new law takes effect.
They're currently in use as off-road vehicles by an unknown number of ranchers and farmers throughout rural Oklahoma, but some are predicting that mini-trucks' miniscule appetite for gasoline will make them a common sight in Tulsa and other urban areas within the next year or so, once they're legal.
They get between 30-40 miles per gallon, depending on the model.
"I think you're going to see a lot of people using them because of the (gas) mileage. I think the mileage is going to sell them," said Armes.
They max at about 55 mph, though, so they won't be allowed on interstates or turnpikes, but they should be perfect for getting around Tulsa's city streets.
Most Americans are already familiar with the manufacturers that make them, like Mitsubishi, Mazda, Honda, Suzuki, etc.
As anyone who's been there knows, they're all over the place in Japan and other parts of Asia, where vehicles are typically small and designed to maneuver in densely populated urban areas with limited space and parking.
A typical mini-truck is about 10 feet long, five feet high, four feet wide, and the bed is about six feet long.
They've also got all the bells and whistles a typical American car has: headlights, blinkers, windshield wipers, seatbelts, an enclosed cab, heaters, AC (sometimes), cushioned seats and the rest.
Many are four-wheel drive, with 35-45 horsepower engines and they typically have a carrying capacity of about 1,200-1,500 lbs.
But, because of their size, they don't meet safety standards for on-road registration in the United States, with the obvious exception of Oklahoma once the new law takes effect.
A few years ago a number of Oklahomans caught on that they're ideal for use as all-terrain vehicles on farms or ranches.
"These little deals are very efficient," said Armes, who is a rancher when he's not at the state Capitol.
"For me, out in the country, I can feed cattle out of these a whole lot cheaper than I can feed cattle out of my one-ton feed truck that I use with a 454 Chevrolet engine, and I've got about a ten-mile round trip when I go feed all my cows. So, if I get one, I can run around the country a whole lot cheaper than I can in that big pickup," he said.
Along with their efficiency, the lawmaker also said slightly used mini-trucks are readily available from Japanese dealers eager to export them.
"Over in Japan, with their emissions standards, when you get over about 50,000 miles on a vehicle, they tax you very heavily, to give people the incentive to buy newer vehicles that meet the most efficient emissions standards, so they unload them over here with 40,000 or 50,000 miles on them," Armes explained.
"I don't know how long they'll go, but they're very well-built, so I'm going to say, if a guy takes care of one, he'll get a lot of miles out of it," he added.
Armes said he doesn't know how many people have them in Oklahoma right now because they're not registered, so there's currently no way to track them.
There are four or five businesses in Oklahoma that import and sell them, including All-American Mini-Trucks (530-1383) in Pryor.
Tiger Trucks (647-4000) in Poteau also sells them. They import the parts from China and put them together in Oklahoma.
A used mini-truck imported from Japan with about 50,000 miles on it costs approximately $4,000-$5,000, depending on what equipment comes with it.
"They can put lift-kits on them and they can really jazz them up. A lot of guys are putting camo-wraps on them for hunting vehicles and stuff like that," said Armes.
A brand-new mini-truck like the vehicles assembled by Tiger Trucks, costs $8,000-$10,000.
Attack of the Minis
Armes and others foresee that the state's population of mini-truck dealers and drivers is about to multiply.
"I'm sure a lot more customers are going to spring up," predicted Bill McCown, who owns and operates Texoma Mini Trucks in Sherman, Texas, which is about 10 minutes outside Oklahoma (20 minutes, maybe, if you're driving a mini-truck).
"I think the demand is going to outrun the supply," said Armes.
He filed the bill at the request of many of his constituents, who had rural, agricultural uses in mind, like driving into town to buy parts and cattle feed and other supplies.
Because of rising gas prices, he said there's a lot of excitement about them from urban and suburban Oklahomans.
"There's a lot of interest in this. I did not anticipate the number of people that were interested until we started the bill, and then all of a sudden I'm getting call after call after call about people wanting to know about them, how do they do it, what's the criteria and just the whole deal," said Armes.
"Which has been kind of neat because, you know, when you run a bill out there, you never know who's going to shoot at it if you run it up the flagpole, and this thing ended up growing quite a bit of legs," he added.
"I have a guy in Lawton who's a pool guy, and he's really anxious to get his pool maintenance guys in them because, if they can drive them around town, they can service pools and they can carry all their stuff. A lot of them are four-wheel drive, so he's looking to use them in his pool business, which makes perfect sense. It's that or a Ford Ranger, and you can run these cheaper than a Ford Ranger," Armes related.
He said he and co-author Sen. Mike Schultz, R-Altus, aren't the first to try to make mini-trucks street-legal in Oklahoma, though.
He said Rep. Jeff Hickman, R-Dacoma, who tried and failed to get the same legislation passed a few years ago, told him, "I can't believe you're getting this passed."
"Well, it was a perfect storm, as far as fuel prices being where they are and the utility of these little trucks, and we thought it's a good time to do it, and obviously it was," Armes responded.
"Timing has everything to do with the success of a rain dance," he added, quoting humorist and commentator, Baxter Black.
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