HILTON HEAD, S.C.—Transportation policy, trade policy and state advocacy will be the general key issues for U.S. tire manufacturers in 2018, according to speakers at the 34th Clemson University Global Tire Industry Conference.
The U.S. tire industry has been growing steadily in the past few years, according to Tracey Norberg, senior vice president and general counsel for the U.S. Tire Manufacturers Association.
From eight members in 2015, the USTMA now has 12, with 57 plants in 18 states, Norberg said. U.S. tire manufacturing has a total impact of more than $148 billion on the domestic economy, accounting for $19.6 billion in direct industry wages and $21.3 billion in federal and state tax revenue, she said.
The USTMA is pleased to have an experienced government official, Elaine Chao, as secretary of transportation, and excited to have Heidi King, the deputy administrator of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, as the nominee to head the agency, Norberg said. Meanwhile, the Trump administration has ushered in an entirely new approach to regulation.
"In Washington, we have heard a lot about the deregulatory policy of the Trump administration," she said.
Early on, President Trump issued two key executive orders, according to Norberg. The first was a "two-for-one" order mandating that two government regulations had to be repealed for every new regulation promulgated. The second order stated that the costs of any new regulation must be completely offset by spending reductions.
"This is the first time any administration demanded a 100 percent offset," she said.
Among the major regulations scheduled to come from NHTSA include:
- The joint NHTSA-Environmental Protection Agency standards on Corporate Average Fuel Economy for vehicle model years 2022-25. The final rule is due April 1, 2020, but the EPA has said it plans to roll back the CAFE standards. "This could affect customer requirements for rolling resistance," Norberg said.
- A change in the Standard Reference Tire used for government tire safety testing. Michelin developed a 16-inch Standard Reference Tire to replace the current 14-inch tire, which is no longer representative of current tire sizes, according to Norberg. "But NHTSA said the standard needed to be updated," she said. A proposed rule is scheduled for September 2018.
- Technical corrections to Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards 109 and 119, which cover passenger and truck tires. A proposed rule was scheduled for June, implementing recommendations by the USTMA and the Tire and Rim Association, according to Norberg.
- The long-awaited consumer information portion of the Tire Fuel Efficiency Labeling Standard issued in March 2010. After many delays, NHTSA has scheduled a proposed rule for this August, Norberg said.
- The biggest tire-related standards still pending, according to Norberg, are the provisions of the Fixing America's Surface Transportation Act signed by President Obama in December 2015.
Pending FAST Act provisions include:
- Performance standards for rolling resistance and wet grip;
- A rule requiring tire registration at the point of sale;
- A study on how the tire industry can capture information electronically into a database, using radio frequency identification and other means; and
- Establishment of a NHTSA online lookup tool to find recalled tires, similar to the one the USTMA already has for its members.
The Trump administration's 25 percent tariffs on imported steel could prove a severe problem for U.S. tire makers, according to Norberg. All of them are dependent on steel cord made from tire-quality steel wire rod, none of which is made in the U.S., she said.
The USTMA has written to President Trump regarding the tariffs, and also is coordinating with steel wire suppliers on product exclusion issues, Norberg said.
"The inability to import tire-grade steel wire rod could affect national security, and we have made that case," she said.
More than half of tire-grade wire rod—157.8 million kilograms, 56.5 percent of the 279.4 million kilogram total in 2017—comes from Brazil, which has an exemption, Norberg noted.
South Korea, which provided 21.1 million kilograms, or 7.5 percent of the 2017 total, has worked out an exemption tied with quotas, she said. Japan, which provided 76.5 million kilograms or 27.5 percent of the total, is working on a temporary exemption, she said.