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Editor's Notebook

DeWine and Da Roses

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Was Sen. Mike DeWine that far off base to suggest consumers should know how "new" their new tires really are? 

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Yes, there is that whole cart-before-the-horse argument about needing scientific evidence of the impact of age on tire performance before getting consumers all cranked up. But, this is the 21st century, and I’d suggest tiremakers have a pretty good idea if and how age affects a tire. Even Ford, of all companies, has been researching the issue.

So, on the face of it, what would be so wrong about telling consumers when their tires were made? It’s another opportunity to educate them, after all. And this issue is yet another reason why consumer education is vital.

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One slight problem: What can you tell them? I’m no scientist, but I’d guess there are far too many variables ®“ climate, season, road surface, maintenance history, compounding, loading, etc. ®“ to be able to draw a reasonable, single conclusion about the relative impact of age on a tire. We can’t have different results for different tires on different cars in different sections of the country at different times of the year. You want to see confusion? Try laying that one out.

Lost in all the hoo-haa is the simple fact that tires already sport "born on" dates ®“ they’re called DOT codes, required on all consumer tires sold in the U.S. ®“ which show a tire’s week and year of manufacture. How much more do you need?

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DeWine’s idea is far from dead; it’ll crop up again sometime in some form from some Congressman.

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By the way, DeWine also introduced a bill calling for national minimum driver’s education standards. Finally, someone in Washington is tackling an issue that probably has more to do with highway safety than all the tire, vehicle design and crash test standards combined.

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Maybe Washington should look at a national tire law that would have a positive impact. The U.K. and European Union countries all have strict laws regarding tread depth, tire condition and inflation pressure maintenance on passenger vehicle tires.

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Minimum allowed tread depth is 1.6 mm across the middle three-quarters of the tread face. Tires that are damaged ®“ cuts, tears or bulges ®“ are illegal, and it is illegal to drive on improperly inflated tires. Random traffic stops, supported by the tire industry, are used to enforce the regs. Penalties are quite severe; the fine is around $4,700 for each faulty tire.

Harsh? Yes. But it works, and it has the full backing of the Tyre Industry Council. Wonder why you don’t hear about "defective tires" and rollover accidents across the pond? Because Europeans are serious about cars, tires and safety.

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We Americans are all about convenience and passing off responsibility.

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Think the tire industry already has enough respect and awareness? Consider the results of two recent surveys:

No tire brands made it onto Business Week’s Top 100 Global Brands Scoreboard, published last summer. No Michelin. No Goodyear. No Bridgestone. The list, which considers brand value based on sales results and intangibles, such as consumer purchasing motives, had Coca-Cola in the top spot and Jack Daniels at number 100 (Jack and Coke anyone?). In between were such well-known names as Prada, Nivea, Hermes, Danone and HSBC. Even Barbie made the list. But not a single tire brand.

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On the flip side, Bridgestone/Firestone made the back of the pack in a recent Harris Interactive/Reputation Institute consumer survey of corporate reputation. Johnson & Johnson had the best reputation among consumers, followed by UPS, Coca-Cola, Disney and Microsoft. At the bottom of the 60-company list were BFS at 53 (up from 55 last year), followed by Philip Morris, Martha Stewart Living, Kmart, R.J. Reynolds, Global Crossing, MCI/WorldCom and Enron. Ouch!

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Finally, don’t think for one minute that "raw material costs" is a convenient excuse tiremakers use to hike prices. It is a very real problem and is only going to get worse. OPEC recently said it was reducing production by 9% to keep prices up. Natural rubber prices continue to spiral. Carbon black is up, and U.S. steel tariffs dinged bead and belt costs. Expect to see the last round of price increases to stick. Mid-year increases are a pretty sure thing, and could be even sharper

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