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Auto dealer seeks ordinances to allow mini trucks on local roads

Kentt Habben

BENSON -- Kentt Habben is hoping his new line of mini trucks is a big seller in Swift County.

But first he's trying to get an ordinance passed to allow the vehicles to be driven on local roads.

At Habben's request, the Benson City Council approved an ordinance two weeks ago to allow the small, Japanese-made trucks to be driven on Benson city streets, starting Jan. 1.

The Swift County Board of Commissioners is expected to take action on a similar ordinance later this month.

Because mini trucks don't meet federal vehicle safety standards, they are not approved for road travel here. They are usually marketed as off-road vehicles and popular in the U.S. for farm use.

But Habben, managing partner at Swenson Motor Company of Benson, said mini trucks are allowed on public roads in some states, like North Dakota.

In Minnesota, municipalities and counties are given the option of allowing mini trucks on streets and roads by adopting ordinances.

Habben said the city has been "very supportive" of his request and hopes the county will be too.

The issue was discussed Tuesday by Swift County Commissioners, who had a few unanswered questions, said Auditor Byron Giese. The commissioners are "keeping an open mind" and will take up the issue again later in the month.

Habben said he'll see how the process goes in Swift County before deciding whether to make a similar request in Willmar and Kandiyohi County.

As the name suggests, the two-seat mini truck is a scaled down version of a full-sized truck. It has a 4-by-6-foot bed that can be used for hauling everything from furniture to farm tools, with a load capacity of 1,400 pounds.

Equipped with four-cycle engines, the fully enclosed vehicles go 50 to 60 miles per hour, have heaters, air conditioners, turn signals and horns.

"They're a little stub-nosed truck," said Habben. "It's a full-function vehicle."

The big difference is that the steering wheel is on the right side.

Regarding safety concerns, Habben said they're "no different than a 1960 Volkswagen."

They're a far cry from a golf cart, which some cities allow on streets, he said.

Owners in Benson will need to purchase an annual permit to drive the mini trucks. The Benson City Council has not set that price yet.

The vehicles Habben has for sale are used and range in price from $6,000 to $7,000. He purchased a container of the mini trucks that were shipped from Japan, where they are commonly driven on highways.

Habben's decision to sell the mini trucks came after news this spring that General Motors financial difficulty was resulting in the elimination of Benson as a GM auto dealership.

The mini trucks won't fill the void of the GM vehicles, but Habben said he's hoping the unique vehicles will give people "another reason to come to Benson."