(From the April 30, 2012, issue of Rubber & Plastics News)
AKRON—Like it or loathe it, tire fuel efficiency labeling is coming to America. Exactly what it will look like, and its real-world effect, still isn't certain.
The U.S., if anything, has been dragging its feet in creating a system whereby consumers can consider a tire's rating according to standards set for tire traction, treadwear and rolling resistance. Or, if you're a consumer advocate, substitute “safety and durability” for “traction and treadwear.”
Europe already has a tire labeling standard, as does Japan and South Korea, while Brazil, another major source and market for tires, is working on one. As a global business, the tire industry has been striving to establish “best practice” criteria for such ratings.
Is this something tire buyers want—clear information to compare tires for such criteria? Not all that long ago, the answer probably was no. Passenger tire customers mostly bought tires based on price, recommendations from dealers, tire brand reputations, what OE tires are on their vehicle and, the biggest reason, marketing. Consumers like ads with babies or blimps, and that's in their mind when they need to replace tires.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration forced tire manufacturers to institute Uniform Tire Quality Grading in the early 1980s in the belief that its treadwear, traction and temperature resistance grades would be useful guides to tire buyers. The industry fought UTQG tooth and nail, but eventually resigned itself to the system. UTQG still exists today, but few tire buyers probably have heard of it.
However, the world has changed in 30 years. Tire recalls and subsequent legislation have much to do with that, along with higher fuel prices and the general acceptance of “green is good.” So tire fuel efficiency is a real issue, and the tire industry throughout the world is addressing it.
Tire labeling has gone through the usual slow rulemaking process, which is how regulations are created. The tire industry has its ideas on what the labels should tell the customer, consumer advocates have a different take and tire retailers want the job of providing consumer information.
The issue now is down to semantics, and the rule will come to pass in a matter of months, rather than years. Then we'll see if it really means anything to consumers, or if they still buy based on babies and blimps.