WASHINGTON (July 1, 2009)—Tire makers, tire dealers and their professional organizations are gearing up to give their take on the massive, complex proposed rule on tire fuel efficiency consumer information by the Aug. 21 deadline.
Published in the Federal Register June 22, the 148-page document proposes a national program to inform consumers about the effect their choices of replacement tires will have on fuel efficiency, safety and durability.
The program will include a rating system for replacement tires—available both online and at point of sale—covering rolling resistance (fuel efficiency), traction (safety) and treadwear (durability).
While organizations such as the Rubber Manufacturers Association and the Tire Industry Association aren't saying much before they submit their formal comments to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, officials of both groups indicated the document is more or less what they expected.
“We don't see any big surprises in there,” said Paul Fiore, director of government and business affairs for TIA.
The RMA proposed the fuel efficiency program in Congress as an alternative to the more draconian fuel efficiency rule pending in California.
The measure passed as part of the omnibus energy package Congress approved at the end of 2007, and charged NHTSA with establishing a tire fuel efficiency program by the end of 2009.
Because of this, the association and its tire manufacturing members have a strong interest in the success of the program, according to Daniel Zielinski, RMA senior vice president.
“We want a rule that gives consumers the best possible information and helps them choose the best tires for the money,” he said.
But the complexity of the proposed rule means that commenters will have their work cut out for them, Zielinski said. There is scarcely a page of the document that doesn't ask the industry's opinion of current or proposed tire programs, and the challenge is to reply as fully as possible to all those queries in 60 days, he said.
NHTSA recommends paper labels to contain a tire's fuel efficiency, safety and durability ratings, individually listed in a scale of 0 to 100. A possible alternative, the agency said, might be combining the three factors into a single rating.
“The advantage of such a system for tire performance ratings would be that it would simplify the ratings, potentially relieving consumers of the task of weighing the ratings for three different metrics for one tire against the three ratings for another tire,” NHTSA said.
The new program will mandate that tire manufacturers report various data to the agency, not only to enforce the ratings system but to provide information for NHTSA's tire fuel efficiency database and Web site, the document said.
NHTSA is proposing tire makers be required to print ratings labels in color, retailers keep the labels on the tires until they are sold and both provide a link from their Web sites—if they have any—to the NHTSA tire fuel efficiency Web site.
The federal agency plans to implement a consumer education program through such methods as the central Web site, informational posters and calculators that compare annual savings through fuel efficiency for the various ratings.
NHTSA anticipates the rule will have one-time costs of about $4 million plus annual costs to the industry of between $18.9 million and $52.8 million.
Among the existing tire programs called into question in the new proposed rule is the Uniform Tire Quality Grading System, which NHTSA proposed in 1968 and mandated in the early 1980s during the tenure of then-Administrator Joan Claybrook. UTQGS already contains grades and testing procedures for treadwear and traction.