AKRON—Yokohama Tire Corp. believes the way tires are tested and labeled will change soon, according to Dan King, the company's vice president of sales and marketing.
A pending tire labeling rule from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration will establish a tire ratings system that will impact both tire manufacturers and dealers. NHTSA issued a proposed rule called the Tire Fuel Efficiency Consumer Information Program in June that more than likely will mandate that manufacturers test tires for rolling resistance, wet traction and treadwear, then label them with the test ratings for consumers to see at point-of-sale. King said Yokohama anticipates a final rule soon.
The label probably will do away with Uniform Tire Quality Grading ratings, but tire dealers are going to be stuck explaining the ratings to consumers, the executive said. King believes the rule probably will require all dealers to carry appropriate point-of-sale material describing the labeling.
“It's a scale of 0 to 100, so somebody could be at 77, 76, 75, but those differences are almost insignificant,” he said, referring to the three test categories. “The consumer won't understand those differences. There will be a certain amount of confusion.”
King said the Rubber Manufacturers Association estimates the new rule will cost the tire industry more than $50 million in the first year alone in compliance costs.
California rules coming
There is also legislation in California concerning rolling resistance that may impact the tire industry. The proposed state law, which preceded NHTSA's rulemaking, would require testing tires based on rolling resistance only and establish a No. 1 rating, he said. Tires within 15 percentage points of the No. 1 rating would be considered “approved” by the state.
King said no one knows right now what the “not approved” category means for tire sales other than California dealers who sell those particular tires that don't make the rolling resistance grade must disclose the rating to customers.
“It's very confusing,” King said. “They've decided to put (the legislation) on hold for a while because the federal government would like them to follow suit and make it easy. … We're not sure yet what's going to happen in the state of California. It's basically been approved, but it hasn't been officially signed. It will create additional government, and that's not a popular thing right now in the state of California.”
Yokohama is preparing for the government's increased regulation of the tire industry: Case in point, the March 1 introduction of the AVID ENVigor tire line.
With the new tire, Yokohama is creating a category called “grand performance” for H- and V-rated tires. Grand performance means the AVID ENVigor performs well in rolling resistance, dry/wet traction, dry/wet braking and treadwear, King said.
“Because we see these changes happening, we believe the consumer is going to want to make sure that they're getting the best all-around product, not necessarily just the best rolling-resistance product,” he said, referring to Yokohama's grand performance category.
Ahead of competition
Yokohama is hoping to jump ahead in the market with the AVID ENVigor, he said. The tire will launch in 69 sizes in a variety of vehicle applications, making it one of Yokohama's largest tire introductions.
Those vehicle applications include the Ford Mustang, Cadillac CTS, BMW 3 Series, Audi A3, Honda CR-V, Nissan 370Z, Toyota Matrix and Volkswagen Tiguan.
The tire features Yokohama's proprietary Adaptive 3D sipes that help maintain water and winter traction; angled groove walls and circumferential grooves that resist hydroplaning; a tapered center rib and unibloc shoulder for stiffness; a six-pitch tread variation for reduced pattern noise; groove-in-groove technology for reduced uneven wear; and a silica compound for fuel efficiency.
The tire is being produced at Yokohama's Salem, Va., plant and at parent firm Yokohama Rubber Co. Ltd.'s factories in Japan.
The AVID ENVigor comes in H, V and W speed ratings and will replace the AVID H4, V4 and W4 tires. Yokohama plans to advertise the ENVigor in tire trade publications and enthusiast publications such as Road & Track and Car and Driver, among others, and partner with dealers in advertising the tire in their markets, King said.
He said Yokohama also is increasing its investment in 2010 in a branding campaign tied to sports marketing. The tire maker is in talks with the National Football League, National Basketball Association, Major League Baseball and the National Collegiate Athletic Association to expand its sponsorships of teams.