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Editor's Notebook

Walk the Talk: It’s a Golden Opportunity, If We Could Only Get Together

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The 2007 Energy Bill is coming home to roost soon. Well, at least the part that has to do with testing and grading tires for rolling resistance, and then teaching consumers about the new UTQG-like scheme and helping them better care for their tires.

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NHTSA says it intends to meet its year-end deadline and deliver a rolling resistance criteria and program proposal.

Before NHTSA gets too much further, though, the tire industry has to figure out if it wants to leave consumer tire education in the hands of non-tire people.

It’s a question Roy Littlefield of TIA has been asking quite a bit lately, and he has a point.

Do we want to leave vital consumer tire education in the hands of (gulp) government or (gasp) militant consumer groups or even (GASP!!) plaintiff lawyers cavorting about as “safety experts?” Groups like Public Citizen, individuals like Sean “Old Tires Are Death” Kane?

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That’s what could happen if NHTSA decides that developing and managing an extensive consumer education program is more than it can handle. Even if it could execute such a program, do we even want the government that involved? I know I don’t.

NHTSA will have to make that decision, and there is precedent for outside groups running government-mandated programs like this – with appropriate oversight, of course. “For instance, there is a truck safety program that the American Highway Users Alliance was contracted to operate,” Littlefield said in an interview we published in January.

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TIA is the most logical and the best-prepared choice, to be sure, to handle the task. It has the neutrality and the industry representation to do a fair job, and it has a basic plan already in place called TIRES – the tire check-off program it first offered some five years ago. With government money (because the program is legislatively mandated) and the right hires (TIA will need to staff up), TIA could do an admirable and certainly industry-friendly job.

But it isn’t going to get anywhere if it can’t get off first base.

Even as Littlefield himself says, “It is absolutely imperative that we, as an industry, must unite immediately and convince NHTSA to allow a legitimate, trustworthy, and, above all else, knowledgeable tire industry group to develop and administer this effort.”

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To do that, TIA needs to put away the scare tactics and get the right parties into a meeting room. And that means getting tiremakers, tire marketers, distributors, dealers, retreaders – everyone who works in this industry – on board.

I can’t imagine that getting the support of tire distributors and retailers and retreaders shouldn’t be that difficult. TIA, for the most part, already represents their interests. Tire marketers would also likely also join in. Why wouldn’t they?

It is the 11 companies that make up RMA’s tire group that are the challenge, as the history of the TIRES program shows.

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But it is not an impossible task. Given the choice, I’m confident the RMA would rather have a friend in charge instead of a pack of lawyers, government bureaucrats or conspiracy theory-driven consumerists. It would rather have a voice than be squelched, and since it cannot run such a program (excluded as it directly represents manufacturers), the only way it would have any voice is with TIA running the show.

Nothing, however, is going to happen until TIA and RMA sit down and talk, work it all out and present a united plan to NHTSA. They need to quit talking about how they need to work together and actually work together on something that really matters. Because this issue does matter to everyone who makes a living in the tire industry – from the corporate chairman to the owner of the wholesale business to the tire changer at the local dealership.

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Pick a date, set an agenda, leave the lawyers at home and come with an open mind and a vision for what is ultimately best for all parties.

There are plenty of hotel meeting rooms in the D.C. area to choose from. If that won’t work, you’re welcome to come to Akron and meet in our conference room. I’ll happily make all of the arrangements, and even moderate the meeting if you wish. Just call me.

Readers, if you are for this, what can you do? Call or e-mail TIA and RMA and tell them how you feel. Contact your tire suppliers and tell them how important this issue is to you and your colleagues. Get their attention.

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We have a golden opportunity, laid out like a Christmas turkey on a well-dressed platter: A chance to use government money to support the most important link in our distribution chain – the customer. We will never see such a gift again.

Let’s not screw this up because we let ego and lawyers get in the way of what is right.

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