It was deja vu all over again at the July 28 National Highway Traffic Safety Administration hearing on the proposed tire rolling resistance grade.
To recognize the similarities, you have to remember the events of 15 years ago, when the Uniform Tire Quality Grading System was first issued. Then and for several years thereafter, all tire companies vehemently protested the new
treadwear grade. They even took the issue to court.
All tire companies, that is, with the exception of Uniroyal. That company graded its tires (the companies do their own testing and grading) at least 80 treadwear points above everyone else's, and emblazoned those grades across its advertising.
The tire industry is dramatically different now than it was in 1980. Uniroyal and B.F. Goodrich combined their tire operations, then sold the joint venture company to Michelin. Both Goodrich and Michelin were among the loudest voices against the UTQG treadwear grade.
And now Michelin is the lone voice crying in the wilderness, championing the rolling resistance grade against the opposition of its colleagues.
Michelin has its patented XSE low-rolling-resistance, high-traction tire technology. Other companies have been quick to accuse Michelin of having no motive for supporting the rolling resistance grade other than an ulterior one.
But Michelin was able to persuade none other than President Bill Clinton that the new grade will save millions of barrels of oil and substantially reduce carbon dioxide emissions.
Furthermore, as Michelin points out, all tire manufacturers regularly meet auto makers' increasing demands for lower rolling resistance. The French-owned company believes a rolling resistance grade will encourage the same trend in the replacement market.
Other tire producers may have a point when they insist a rolling resistance grade won't save nearly as much fuel as Michelin says. And, they declare, it might force tire makers to promote rolling resistance at the expense of traction and treadwear.
But Uniroyal, backed by a congressional mandate, was the winner in 1980. Today Michelin is supported by mandates from both Congress and the White House.
Don't be surprised if that sort of backing is enough to make Michelin a majority of one.
Moore is the Washington reporter for Rubber & Plastics News.