AKRON—The business world hates regulations to death; wants them all banned so free market economics can sprinkle its magic dust unabated; and if forced to comply with government dictates, would rather write the rules themselves than leave it to Washington bureaucrats.
There is some truth to these generalizations, and some exaggeration.
Companies and especially the business organizations that represent them, typically embrace the word “deregulation” like a religious man-tra. But if pressed, they would admit some government rules are necessary for the safety and health of society, and to protect legitimate commerce.
Free market devotees want the market to decide all. However, even the most avid fan of Milton Friedman knows that slumbering regulators allowed subprime mortgages and unsupervised exotic derivatives to launch the Great Recession.
The last statement, though, is no generalization. Business would rather write the rules itself, and not simply out of self-interest. In many cases, they have the expertise.
The NHTSA regulations on tire fuel efficiency standards are the case in point.
The government agency is trying to devise the best way to make the new standards understandable by the average Joe. It is considering holding focus groups and personal interviews to find out what works.
The main tire industry association with an interest in the subject, the Rubber Manufacturers Association, has no complaint with that approach. But the RMA has some specific ideas on what consumers should be asked.
The RMA pointed out if NHTSA, as it proposed, asks consumers questions about tire maintenance, performance and rolling resistance, that would be a mistake. Consumers don't know about such things.
“Motorists generally understand that vehicles with underinflated tires have more rolling drag and get lower gas mileage,” the association said. “Going beyond this in a consumer focus group discussion quickly becomes involved in technical detail that will be lost on typical drivers.”
The RMA is more polite than I. I'd say the typical consumer is pretty much ignorant about tires.
It's like the tire quality grading system. Sure, some folks who understand that a tire with a treadwear grading of 200 should (in theory) last twice as long as one labeled 100. The traction and temperature grades—they are more likely to misconstrue traction, and temperature, forget it.
What they mostly do is rely on the salesperson to steer them to the right tire, if it's an aftermarket product, or just buy the brand that came with the car. Trumping those often is price à do I want to spend $25 more for a better temperature grade? Probably not.
But understanding UTQG? Not really. Comprehending tire fuel efficiency, considering all the factors that go into it, is a stretch.
This time, NHTSA should just do what the RMA suggests.
Noga is the editor of Rubber & Plastics News.