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Editor's Notebook

Collaboration, Not Consolation, Should Guide Tire Regulations

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The European tire industry did not wait until the legislator forced them to make progress on safer or cleaner tires. The industry voluntarily announced in Nove­mber 2006 that it wanted to contribute to the global efforts for reducing CO2 emission while securing the safest tires on the market.”

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– European Tire & Rubber Manufacturers’ Association secretary general Fazilet Cinaralp, on the immediate impact of the European Union’s new tire testing and labeling regulations

“The availability of reliable and comparable information on tire performance will make it easier for consumers to take these elements into account in their purchasing decisions.”

– ETRMA chairman and Pirelli Tyre CEO Francesco Gori, on the same

There is something wholly un-American about those statements – and not just because both gentlemen are European.

It’s because they speak of cooperation and collaboration with government, of being on the forefront of regulation, of having a seat at the table instead of in the gallery.

And it’s not just the Europeans. The Japan Automobile Tire Manu­facturers Association – after working with government, as well – just enacted its own testing and labeling regulations. Its own, not the government’s.

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Gori and Cinaralp’s statements reveal things like cooperation and volunteerism and concern for what’s best for the consumer. It is hard to imagine such comments from a North American company. On these shores, the words “regulation” and “legislation” are met with sneers and scorn, and are treated as undue interference with our “liberty” and “capitalism.”

There is another interesting difference. The statements of the ETRMA chiefs hold a level of confidence that all will be well, and consumers will be greatly served because industry and government met an unstated practical – even moral – obligation.

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Pretty heady stuff for the tire industry, eh?

And that’s a shame because we could use a little of that sanity. Especially since we’ll soon be dealing with our government-induced tire performance and labeling regulations. Any day now – maybe even before you read these words – NHTSA will issue its final rules dictating the specific test procedures and labeling methodology and “consumer education” that will rule our roost for the foreseeable future.

Based on the reactions of the tire industry execs to whom I have spoken, these new regs will be as warmly embraced as a bad head cold. Just as any such perceived encroachment.

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Two chief anti-arguments are that the new performance grading and labeling scheme won’t provide useful data to help consumers make buying decisions and that “consumers just won’t get it.”

Maybe the assumption that consumers “won’t get it” is just where we need to start.
Sure, the fickle buying public can be a challenge, and not everyone will want to know that much about tires, but right now what buying tools do we provide them? The utterly useless UTQG?

No, it falls on the backs of the tire dealer to provide that education, to help consumers of all confidence and knowledge levels make good choices.

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Frankly, I rather like NHTSA’s basic scheme. We can argue the details all day, but the fact that tire buyers will be able to make real and legitimate apples-to-apples comparisons between brands and lines is a huge change. And having a real and consistent measure of a tire’s fuel efficiency will finally clear the haze marketers have created.

What’s wrong with a little straight talk? Why don’t we want the best interests of the consumer to lead the discussion? What’s so bad about giving consumers real information so they can make real choices?

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Not a darn thing, unless you don’t trust the consumer to “get it.”

Instead of crying about the cards we’re dealt, maybe we need to assume the greater good and let the chips fall where they may. Sure, there will be bumps along the way, but I think laying all of the cards on the table will make for better tire companies and better consumers.

And while we’re at it, let’s stop allowing our regulations to be born out of consolation and not collaboration.

Where to start? Well, there’s one great issue on the table right now: tire aging.

It’s quiet right now, but percolating in the background are Sean Kane and his lawyer buddies who are still looking for that lynch pin that will pull their scattershot claims together. As soon as Kane is done roasting Toyota, he’ll be back on the old tire trail, kicking up dust and mud and sticks and stones.

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Perhaps while he’s distracted, industry leadership can step up – science and stats be damned – and make a proactive move.

That’s not un-American, is it?

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