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Editor's Notebook

50 State Solution? Add It All Up and the Writing is On the Wall

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Three years ago, the RMA was busy crafting and politicking a federalbill on tire fuel efficiency that eventually became part of the 2007Energy Bill.

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Back in 2005, you’ll recall, gas prices were goingthrough the roof. $2.20, then $2.45, then $2.60. Tires, as always,became the focal point, with consumers looking for ways to save moneywith “better” rubber.

A number of states considered laws tocontrol the fuel efficiency of replacement tires sold within theirborders. These consumerist bills, including one actually enacted inCalifornia, presumed that OE tires were more fuel-efficient thanreplacement units.

Anyone could see what an absoluteyou-know-what this would have turned into if each state had its ownlaw. Thousands of SKUs and 50 divergent state laws would have killedthe industry at every level.

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Despite the lack of an execution plan, everyone agreed with RMA that one law, indeed, was better than 50.

Therewasn’t any science attached to RMA’s bill or any state offering. Even aNational Academy of Sciences study offered no technical basis forproposed laws, only finding that tires represented a wee 4% of atypical vehicle’s fuel consumption. Despite that fact, the Academystill felt compelled to think out loud that tire rolling resistancecould be improved by 10%.

Interestingly, since the Energy Billof 2007 was signed into law, nary a peep about tire fuel efficiency hasbeen heard – even in the dark days of $4.50 a gallon gas in 2008.Finally, some 18 months after the Energy Bill was signed, we haveNHTSA’s first pass at a fuel efficiency testing, grading and consumereducation scheme. But that’s another story.

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So, to recap:
• Low-level PR issue: Consumers thought “better” tires would save gas
• States proposed varied laws, directly impacting tiremakers
• No scientific evidence or even testing plan
• One new national law – proposed by tiremakers – solves problem!

Now,hit the reverse button to 2003 – even before all of this fuelefficiency folderol. That’s when we first heard the name Sean Kane ofplaintiff attorney-helping Strategic Safety, as he began pounding theindustry about old tires going bad.

Over the past six years,countless lawsuits have been filed against tiremakers and tire dealersalike, alleging that older tires – six years or more in chronologicalage – failed and maimed or killed people. Each Kane-led attack –including last year’s epic ABC-TV “investigative report” beat down –has left the industry bruised and battered. Mostly the tire retailers.

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Meanwhile,across the oceans blue, various rules, regulations and recommendedpractices have been enacted about “old tires” by various vehicle OEMs,tire manufacturers and their associations, tire dealer groups, and tiresafety organizations.

But on these shining shores, we have heardnothing but the droning refrain: “There is no scientific evidence…”,leaving tire dealers to placate angry, confused consumers.

Thanksto Kane and ABC’s primetime drubbing, California, Hawaii and New Yorkhave been considering laws aimed at aged tires. California just setaside a bill that would fine tire retailers for not providing a writtendisclosure of the precise age of any tire sold. Hawaii would make itillegal to sell any tire older than six years. New York demands a clearborn-on date stamped on the side of each tire. See a pattern here?

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Whilefirmly against the proposed state laws, RMA has otherwise only issued a“statement” regarding tire service life – back in March 2006. Thatmissive says, in part: “Since service and storage conditions varywidely, accurately predicting the serviceable life of any specific tirebased on simple calendar age is not possible. RMA is not aware ofscientific or technical data that establishes or identifies a specificminimum or maximum service life for passenger and light truck tires.”

Let’s recap:
• High-level PR crisis: Six years of being dragged through the muck, including national and local TV bashfests
• Numerous lawsuits citing deaths and injuries
• States proposing varied laws, directly impacting retailers
• One 588-word “statement” by tiremakers fails to solve the problem!
To borrow from Paul Simon, “Where have you gone, RMA? A nation’s dealers turn their lonely eyes to you.”

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Certainly,we don’t need one state law, let alone 50. But where RMA once leaptinto the legislative pool without the aid of science, it won’t budge onthe tire age issue because there is no science – on either side.

Theresult, I’m afraid, will be a you-know-what of 50 different state laws,all laced with steep penalties and extra work for tire retailers – andvirtually none for the manufacturers.
Silence, I guess, is really golden.

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