Legislative and regulatory action concerning tire fuel efficiency, the TREAD Act and tire imports were at the top of the agenda for the tire industry in 2007. And yet, with few exceptions, nothing much got done.
Look for more of the same in 2008. It is a presidential election year, which trade association officials expect will distract Congress from focusing on industry-specific issues.
One of the few pieces of legislation specific to the tire industry that made it through Congress in 2007 did so at the very end of the year, as part of a much larger bill. It became law on Dec. 19.
The legislation calls for an increase in the corporate average fuel economy standard to 35 mpg by 2020, which is important to any player in the auto and transportation industry.
For the Rubber Manufacturers Association, however, it represents a particular triumph, because one of the bill´s amendments calls on the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration to promulgate a national tire fuel efficiency consumer information program for motorists buying replacement tires.
This RMA-backed provision includes a tire fuel efficiency rating system; requirements for providing fuel efficiency information to tire buyers, including point-of-sale materials and the Internet; test specifications for tire makers to use in assessing and rating tires for fuel efficiency; and a national tire maintenance consumer education program.
NHTSA is required by law to begin the rulemaking process with a public comment period, but probably it will be months before that period can begin.
Getting the fuel efficiency measure passed was a triumph of the hard work and legislative skill of the RMA, its staff and its member companies, according to RMA President Donald B. Shea.
"Few folks would have predicted our getting an energy bill this year, let alone our getting an RMA-sponsored rolling resistance amendment in the bill," Shea said. "The industry deserves credit for crafting a responsible position and getting it adopted."
The RMA and its members framed the legislation as a response to state-by-state tire fuel efficiency legislation such as that passed in California in 2003. To obtain passage, the industry had to agree to a provision that the bill wouldn´t pre-empt any tire fuel efficiency law in effect as of Jan. 1, 2006.
Nevertheless, the bill represents an end to the possibility of a crazy-quilt of state tire rolling resistance standards.
Shea said the aid of the Tire Industry Association was invaluable, not only in helping to obtain passage of the national fuel efficiency bill but in heading off attempts to pass California-influenced tire legislation in states such as Maryland and Connecticut.
"This has been a very positive year for RMA-TIA collaboration," he said.
The TREAD Act and tire imports
"It seems like an epoch ago that it was adopted," Shea said of the Transportation Recall Enhancement, Accountability and Documentation Act, which became law late in 2000. While the TREAD Act´s provisions are now in place, he said, the question of compliance is still very much up in the air, especially with certain imported tires.
"We´ve spent a goodly portion of this year declaring our position that if you sell a tire here, you have to comply with the same safety rules as RMA members," Shea said. This issue will continue to be foremost with the RMA in 2008, he added.
RMA-TIA cooperation also was paramount in this issue in 2007 and will continue to be in 2008, according to Shea. He credits both TIA and the Specialty Equipment Manufacturers Association with giving the RMA and NHTSA a strong presence at the SEMA Show in November in Las Vegas.
The importance of TREAD Act compliance to tire dealers, Shea said, became clear in late June when NHTSA ordered the recall of 250,000 light truck tires manufactured by the Chinese firm Hangzhou Zhongce Rubber Co. Ltd.
In the beginning, there was some question whether the importer of record, Union, N.J.-based Foreign Tire Sales Inc., could afford to conduct the recall.
Hangzhou, meanwhile, has disclaimed any financial responsibility in the recall-a position whose danger for tire dealers was underscored when Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal said he would hold financially responsible any tire dealer that sold a recalled Hangzhou tire.
"This was a clarion call to tire dealers that when you sell tires, you need to make sure somebody´s standing behind you," Shea said. "And not just in marketing, but in the integrity of the tire itself."
The problem is not with "Made in China," according to Shea; millions of excellent tires are made in China by RMA members and nonmembers alike, he said. "The question is selling tires in the U.S. and not standing behind the tires you sell," he said.
The idea has been floated in Congress to introduce legislation to ensure that foreign tire makers indemnify any tires they make that are imported to the U.S. The RMA is looking at that proposal, Shea said.
Besides working with the RMA on import tire compliance with TREAD Act regulations, TIA will work with retreaders on how to spot noncompliant casings, TIA Executive Vice President Roy Littlefield said.
"Tires look alike-even those that aren´t up to TREAD Act specifications," Littlefield said. With more and more casings coming in from Europe and Asia, TIA is devising methods for retreaders to intercept casings that don´t meet NHTSA´s safety standards, he said.
Scrap and used tires
In 2008, the RMA is concerned about a proposal by Rep. Henry Johnson, D-Ga., to give vehicle fleets tax credits for buying tires with high recycled rubber content. The proposal hasn´t yet been introduced as legislation, Shea said, but the mere suggestion is enough to call for RMA opposition.
"Our position is to let the market decide where the product will go," he said. "The government should never designate winners and losers in the scrap tire industry when the market should do that."
Again with the collaboration of TIA and of state and regional tire dealer associations, the RMA claimed victories in state scrap tire legislation and programs in several states. The association fought back attempts to ban the use of tire-derived fuel, Shea said, and in Colorado it obtained both a reduction of the scrap tire fee and an assurance that most of the state´s scrap tire fund would go toward scrap tire abatement projects.
TIA, meanwhile, is concerned about the issue of used tires-a staple product for many of its members, but a product mired in controversy.
Safety Research & Strategies Inc., a Rehoboth, Mass.-based safety advocacy group with ties to trial lawyers, insists used tires are ticking time bombs and should be strictly regulated.
In May 2007, the RMA issued a Tire Information Service Bulletin advising motorists and tire dealers not to buy, sell or install used tires if they exhibit any of 17 negative characteristics.
Later that year, TIA formed a committee to study whether a used passenger and light truck tire training program would be useful to tire dealers.
Meanwhile, Bridgestone/Firestone announced it would no longer allow the sale of used tires at company-owned stores.
"There are a lot of industry efforts on both sides to develop a policy to adequately address this issue," Littlefield said. "We can´t speculate on how that will end up."
RMA and TIA officials plan to meet sometime soon to discuss the used tire issue.