WASHINGTON-Once again, politics has made strange bedfellows.
Public Citizen, the consumer watchdog group headed by Joan Claybrook, periodically excoriates the tire industry for alleged indifference to driver safety. Now it has joined four major tire companies and the Tire Industry Association in a legal effort to have the new final rule on tire pressure monitoring systems overturned.
Just as interesting, however, is who isn´t joining the suit filed June 6 before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit. The Rubber Manufacturers Association-which staunchly opposes the TPMS standard and has petitioned for various changes to it-is not a party to the court action, saying there is no consensus among its tire maker members on that issue.
Tire manufacturers not involved in the suit are staying mum as to why. "We just decided this was the thing to do," said a spokeswoman for Continental Tire North America Inc., which stayed out of the legal action.
Goodyear, Bridgestone/Firestone, Cooper Tire & Rubber Co. and Pirelli Tire L.L.C. joined TIA and Public Citizen in the suit against the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. The petition itself was brief, stating only the plaintiffs´ belief that the rule is "arbitrary and capricious" (the standard legal term used in opposition to a federal regulation) and should be vacated by the court.
In public statements, however, the various plaintiffs made plain their displeasure with the tire pressure monitoring regulation.
"We strongly believe the current TPMS rule is fundamentally flawed," Goodyear and Bridgestone/Firestone said in a joint statement. "The tire industry has been united in our assertions that NHTSA´s current rule may give motorists a false sense of security and actually may result in less safety rather than more."
Added Roy Littlefield, TIA executive vice president: "This could be the first time in the history of rulemaking that the industries impacted by a proposed regulation do not think that the proposal is stringent enough."
All the parties are unhappy with the rule´s provision that motorists won´t see a warning light until a tire is 25 percent below the vehicle manufacturer´s recommended air pressure. TIA and Public Citizen also have criticized the final rule´s doubling the allowable length of time-to 20 minutes from 10-between the system´s picking up on a tire´s underinflation and notifying the driver.
Public Citizen said NHTSA defines the 20-minute provision as 20 minutes of continuous driving at 30 to 60 mph. "This means that the system would be useless for someone who does a lot of city driving with attendant stops and starts," the group said.
Public Citizen especially dislikes the lack of any provision to ensure that replacement tires are compatible with a vehicle´s monitoring system.
The agency has received about a dozen petitions for reconsideration on the April 7 rule, including petitions from Public Citizen, TIA, the RMA, the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers and the Specialty Equipment Market Association.
Michelin North America Inc. was among the few individual tire makers to file its own petition with NHTSA. Like Conti, it did not join the lawsuit.
"For Michelin, this was the appropriate course of action," a Michelin spokesman said. "We´re hopeful NHTSA will address our concerns in its reply to our petition."