WASHINGTON-Labeling tires for fuel efficiency is under consideration at the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration-as part of a larger proposal to reform the Uniform Tire Quality Grading System. In a formal request for comments, NHTSA is asking the public whether to mandate UTQGS tire grades for rolling resistance, either as an addition to the current system or as a replacement for the current temperature resistance grade.
The agency also wants comments on specific proposed changes to the UTQGS treadwear and traction tests ``to make the quality ratings more meaningful to the tire-buying public.'' In particular, it wants to end variables in treadwear testing that have resulted in recent grades higher than 800.
President Clinton formally called for rolling resistance labeling for tires Oct. 19. The idea had come from Michelin Tire Corp. at a White House conference on global climate change in July.
NHTSA has made plain its preference for replacing temperature resistance grades with rolling resistance. ``(The federal safety standard for tires) would continue to ensure that all tires are capable of operating safely up to 85 mph,'' it said, and fuel efficiency would ``generate more interest and be more easily understood by consumers than temperature resistance.''
As for treadwear and traction, there have been various changes in the testing since it began in 1979-80 to make the grades more accurate and useful to consumers. But certain problems remain, NHTSA said.
``Early in the UTQGS program, the treadwear grading criteria...produced specific results. As the years progressed, however, treadwear ratings have drifted steadily upward in both manufacturers' and NHTSA's testing results to the point that many of the ratings appear to be questionable,'' NHTSA said.
Rubber Manufacturers Association President Thomas E. Cole said RMA members will decide whether to comment as a group or as individuals.