A provision requiring independent tire dealers to register all tires they sell at the point of sale, and to transmit that information electronically to tire manufacturers, became law in December as part of a larger, five-year surface transportation reauthorization bill.
The mandatory registration provision was part of a group of strategic initiatives advanced by the Rubber Manufacturers Association. Those RMA recommendations—which were part of the final legislation—included one provision to establish fuel economy and wet traction minimum standards for tires, and another for NHTSA to post a user-friendly tire safety recall lookup engine on its website, navigable by tire identification number.
The RMA was delighted by passage of the surface transportation bill in general and of its strategic initiatives in particular, according to Charles A. Cannon, outgoing RMA president and CEO.
“We've waited a long time for a multi-year highway bill,” he said. “Its passage represented a coming together of interests. Unfortunately, it was a unique opportunity, but an opportunity nonetheless. We agree with the National Transportation Safety Board that the recall system is broken and needs fixing.”
In October 2015, as an outcome of a two-day hearing held the previous December, the NTSB issued a report making 11 recommendations to improve tire registration and recalls.
Cannon noted there is no timetable for NHTSA to complete action on the RMA's provisions.
“We look forward to NHTSA taking the lead in reforming these regulations, but we hope they do so with a sense of urgency,” he said.
The Tire Industry Association opposed mandatory registration as unfair to independent tire dealers, according to Roy Littlefield, TIA executive vice president. Even more, however, TIA is concerned that the issue is in the hands of government regulators, rather than being handled internally by stakeholders or debated in Congress.
“One concern we have is that for 10 years we have talked about the need for the industry to speak in one voice and be profit-driven in all things,” Littlefield said. “I have great concerns how this will play out—not just for us, but for manufacturers. We may see we've bitten off more than we can chew.
“There was never a vote on any of this, never a discussion or vote. Now we've turned it over completely to bureaucrats.”
Turning over customer lists to tire makers is especially worrisome for independent dealers, he said. Not long ago the European Union established similar requirements for dealers to transmit registration information to manufacturers, and Littlefield and other Americans heard about the results at the recent conference in Bologna, Italy, of BIPAVER, the European retreading association.
“The first year of the European regulations, online sales of tires rose over 20 percent,” Littlefield said. “It was killing the European dealers.”
TIA managed to get House-Senate conferees for the surface transportation bill to include a provision for NHTSA to perform a study on the feasibility of including readable electronic devices on tires that would contain the TIN and all relevant registration information. However, the conferees rejected TIA's proposal to defer rulemaking on mandatory registration until the study was completed.
“We will make a concerted effort to meet with safety groups to call for pushing forward on the study,” Littlefield said.
Cannon said the RMA favors analysis of electronic information on tires but added, “We are pleased to see it's not a condition of moving forward with reform of tire registration.”