HILTON HEAD ISLAND, S.C.—The tire industry is still waiting for the labeling and consumer information portions of the tire fuel efficiency rule, and it's still a tossup as to whether it will be a boon or a burden to tire manufacturers and dealers.
This was the message conveyed by speakers at the 27th annual Clemson University Tire Industry Conference, held April 6-8 at Hilton Head.
The final rule on tire fuel efficiency—mandated by the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007 (EISA)—was issued in March 2010, requiring consumer grades for rolling resistance, traction and treadwear. However, the document did not contain final provisions for either tire labeling or a consumer information program, citing the need for more research in both cases.
It will be a while before the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration issues final rules on those provisions, according to James D. MacIsaac Jr., project engineer at NHTSA's testing facility in East Liberty, Ohio.
“There's a lot more research needed on consumer information, and also more tire testing,” MacIsaac said.
NHTSA currently has rolling resistance results for 20 candidate tires in the fuel efficiency testing, as well as wet traction results for nine tires, according to MacIsaac. The agency also is running 7,200 miles per convoy for treadwear testing on nine production tire models, he said.
MacIsaac said he wasn't at liberty to give detailed information on the progress of the final rules or their potential content. He said, however, that there was a congressional mandate for rolling resistance grades on tires long before EISA.
In September 1994, Congress passed a law mandating that NHTSA issue a notice of proposed rulemaking on a rolling resistance consumer label by June 1, 1995, MacIsaac said. In July 1995, the agency proposed replacing the Uniform Tire Quality Grading temperature grade with a rolling resistance grade.
However, Congress voted to deny funding for this effort in November 1995. “It had something to do, I believe, with the patents on low-rolling-resistance silica treads, which kept them locked up for 17 years,” he said.
Tire labeling is a major issue for the global tire manufacturing industry, which is working very hard to establish best practices for labeling programs worldwide, according to Richard Scavuzzo, Goodyear director of global government compliance and product performance.
“The effectiveness of any consumer tire information program depends on how the program is developed and how it is structured,” Scavuzzo said. “Multiple labeling programs are being developed around the globe. We believe that as a global tire industry we should get some unanimity on what best practices are.
“Our feeling is that if we have a consensus from the industry, these programs can be rolled out quickly and efficiently in each country that develops them,” he said. “If every country comes out with its own tests, it's going to be a nightmare.”
Europe and Japan already have their own tire consumer labeling programs, Scavuzzo said. Europe's grading system, which covers rolling resistance, wet grip and tire noise for passenger, light truck and truck tires, requires tires to be labeled by July 2012.
Japan's program, administered by the Japan Automobile Tyre Manufacturers Association, is for passenger tires only—as is the U.S. program—and requires grades for rolling resistance and wet grip. JATMA allows tire manufacturers to place labels on tires voluntarily now, but will require the labels beginning January 2012, Scavuzzo said.
Other countries are planning their own labeling requirements, according to Scavuzzo. South Korea, he said, is very close to announcing its own labeling program based on the Japanese and European models.
ANIP, the Brazilian tire manufacturers association, and INMETRO, the Brazilian quality standards agency, held meetings recently to outline a Brazilian tire labeling program, Scavuzzo asked. Turkey is considering adoption of the European labeling system, and China is drafting minimum requirements for tire rolling resistance, he said.
Meanwhile, the Tire Industry Association continues to be concerned about the content of the consumer information program and who will be designated to oversee it, according to Roy Littlefield, TIA executive vice president.
“Will it be a necessary consumer program, or a recipe for disaster?” Littlefield asked. “I believe it could go either way.”
Since the consumer information program was first proposed, TIA has put itself forward as the logical third-party organization to manage the program for NHTSA.
TIA is in a perfect position to expand on current tire industry safety programs and emphasize the need for consumers to care for their tires properly, according to Littlefield.
Without strong industry input, a consumer information program on tire fuel efficiency could prove catastrophic to tire manufacturers and retailers alike, he said.
“If this program is not administered properly, it could result in legislation and mandates more severe than the TREAD Act,” Littlefield said. “What if we saw government-sponsored ads about tire aging?”