HILTON HEAD, N.C. — "When you retire from this industry, we´ll still be working on the TREAD Act."
That was one of the messages Michael Wichhusen, director of industry standards and government regulations for Michelin North America Inc., had for the audience at the 23rd Annual Clemson Tire Industry Conference at Hilton Head March 14-16.
While government regulation is often difficult, government isn´t always the enemy, Wichhusen and other speakers at the conference said.
"Regulation is not inherently bad," Wichhusen said. "It can protect us and help us move forward as an industry."
Nevertheless, living with the provisions of the Transportation Recall Enhancement, Accountability and Documentation Act will be difficult and expensive for tire makers. Wichhusen quoted a Rubber Manufacturers Association estimate that TREAD Act compliance will cost the tire industry between $800 million and $1 billion.
Furthermore, the TREAD Act covers only the U.S., he said. Countries as far-flung as South Africa, Australia, China, Brazil and the European Union have their own vehicle and tire rules, while others such as India and Jamaica are developing regulations.
Seven national vehicle markets have created 21 different tire safety and endurance tests. All demand each tire maker selling products within their borders not only comply with those tests, but bear their national symbols of compliance on their sidewalls.
"Have you ever seen a 35-aspect-ratio tire on a 20-inch wheel?" Wichhusen said. "There´s not much room to write that stuff!"
But woe to the tire maker that doesn´t write that stuff on its sidewalls. "The first time you hold up a boatload of cars at the dock because the tires don´t have the required markings, you get a very, very bad report card from that OE customer at the end of the year," Wichhusen said.
To remedy this situation, a World Forum for Harmonization of Vehicle Regulations (WP29) has been created under the aegis of the United Nations. One of those regulations is a Global Technical Regulation for Tires, which will cover markings, dimensions, high-speed safety, endurance, wet grip, bead unseating and noise, among other aspects of tire regulation and performance.
Nevertheless, the tire industry has to remain vigilant to its interests on national levels, especially on topics such as rolling resistance, Wichhusen said.
"A lot of the discussion on rolling resistance is going on among people debating on the environmental level, with no real knowledge of the subject," he said. "Education is the key. Education on the subject requires our involvement as an industry.
"We as an industry have to be involved in the regulatory process," he said. "Noninvolvement won´t make it go away. We have a choice: We can participate or sit back and watch it happen to us."
Ronald L. Medford, senior associate administrator for vehicle safety at the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, was on hand at the conference to tell attendees what regulations affecting the tire industry will be handed down soon.
NHTSA will issue a final rule on Electronic Stability Control systems probably in April, Medford said. More to the point, the new regulation on passenger tire safety and endurance testing-addressing such industry concerns as chunking of snow tire treads during laboratory high-speed testing of snow tires-is due on or about Sept. 1.
An upgrade of heavy truck tire safety standards has been under consideration at NHTSA for four years, and a proposed rule probably will be published in the Federal Register sometime in 2007, Medford said.
Will NHTSA also, for the first time, issue a safety and endurance standard for retreaded truck tires? "My crystal ball says it will happen," said Harvey Brodsky, managing director of the Tire Retread Information Bureau.
When a federal standard for retreads was first proposed, some retreaders were angry at the prospect, Brodsky remembered.
"I told them that was a mistake," he said. "If we think NHTSA is going to hurt us, all that´s going to do is make them hurt us."
Brodsky said he also believes global harmonization of retreading will happen, particularly considering the stringent standards for retreads in the European Union. He plans to meet with officials of BIPAVER, the European retreading society, at the Bologna Auto Show in May.