WASHINGTON—The issuing of tire labeling regulations is following a familiar path in rulemaking. They are late.
On March 25, 2010, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration released a 195-page final rule mandating that U.S. tire makers implement a tire fuel efficiency labeling program to help consumers select tires with the least rolling resistance and highest fuel savings.
However, the standard lacked provisions involving the format and content of the fuel efficiency labels, final language as to tire testing requirements under the rule, and provisions regarding the format and operation of the consumer education portion of the rule.
Last September, NHTSA established a schedule on its website, presenting a deadline of March 15, 2013, for issuance of the pending provisions. But the Rubber Manufacturers Association said the Office of the Secretary of Transportation apparently missed a January deadline to approve the supplemental final rule and send it to the Office of Management and Budget for further scrutiny, as is required under federal law.
“I don't think it's been cleared yet,” an RMA spokesman said. “And even if the OMB were to receive it now, it would need at least 30 days.”
A spokesman for the Tire Industry Association said he had no idea when the supplemental final rule will appear. He added, however, that TIA and NHTSA officials are having ongoing meetings on the issue.
The requirement for a tire labeling and consumer information program on tire fuel efficiency came out of the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007. The RMA, seeking to pre-empt more drastic action in California and other states, drafted and backed the provision.
However, it was apparent from the proposed rule on tire fuel efficiency labeling in June 2009 that NHTSA and the tire industry were far apart on some issues of implementation. The final rule nine months later did little to close the gap.
There was little controversy over what the labeling system would require: safety (traction) and durability (treadwear), as required under the long-standing Uniform Tire Quality Grading Standard, as well as rolling resistance, a new test for NHTSA. There also was consensus that the International Organization for Standardization's Test 28580, developed specifically to test tire rolling resistance, would be the basis for NHTSA testing requirements.
However, NHTSA favored Rolling Resistance Force (RRF) as the metric for determining rolling resistance ratings, whereas the RMA preferred the Rolling Resistance Coefficient (RRC).
“Rolling resistance force will minimize differentiation, whereas the Rolling Resistance Coefficient is more suitable to provide a range of choices to consumers,” said Daniel Zielinski, RMA senior vice president, at the first hearing on the final rule in late March 2010. The RRC was already the choice of Europe and Japan in their rolling resistance testing programs, Zielinski said.
The format of the labels themselves was a bone of contention, as was the question of whether paper labels actually would be placed on the tires.
Whereas NHTSA favored a 0-100 “thermometer” system, the RMA said a system of one to five stars was both more manageable for tire makers and more comprehensible to consumers. Also, the tire industry said consumers would never even see paper fuel efficiency labels, because tire dealers would remove them before placing them on vehicles.
The RMA thinks NHTSA may agree to the RRC and the one-to-five-star rating, according to the association spokes-man. But there are also unresolved issues, such as what the agency will require in testing for wet traction, he said.
The spokesman also said he hoped the ratings for tire fuel efficiency won't be as rigid for those in UTQG.
“In UTQG, 800 is the top treadwear rating,” he said. “Probably almost every tire manufacturer has a tire now that would exceed 800.” The RMA hopes tire fuel efficiency ratings will be flexible enough to account for improvements in both product quality and testing as they evolve, he said.
TIA has many of the same objections to NHTSA's fuel efficiency proposals as the RMA. Not only would tire buyers rarely get a close look at paper fuel efficiency labels, TIA said, but a tire retailer would have to pull several different brands of the same size tire out of his warehouse to give customers a fair comparison.
TIA also still hopes to be designated as the third-party administrator of the consumer education portion of the rule. Roy Littlefield, TIA executive vice president, has often said his organization is the logical choice to distribute tire safety and quality information.