WASHINGTON-For the first time in its history, Michelin Americas Small Tires (MAST) has failed qualification testing to supply passenger tires to the federal government through the General Services Administration. MAST saw the failure of a Michelin-brand passenger tire and both its Uniroyal- and BFGoodrich-brand light truck tires during qualification testing, according to information obtained through the Freedom of Information Act. A Uniroyal passenger tire also failed testing, but a Goodrich tire passed. Test dates were not immediately available.
Treadwear was the sticking point for all four failed tires, said Kenneth L. Collings Jr., manager of the Federal Tire Program within the GSA Automotive Commodity Center. He expects Michelin to resubmit the tires for qualification testing as soon as possible. But until then, the failures mean MAST can no longer supply Michelin passenger tires or Uniroyal and Goodrich light truck tires to the federal government.
MAST has contracts with the GSA until 1995, but the failures mean the government must stop buying those tires immediately, Mr. Collings said.
A MAST spokeswoman said the failures were not particularly significant. ``Qualification is an ongoing process, and it's not uncommon for a tire not to meet a test requirement and then be resubmitted in order to reach qualification,'' she said.
Citing confidentiality, she declined to state the value of MAST's government contracts.
According to a MAST spokesman, the company will resubmit tires for testing ``once we have reviewed with GSA officials the test conditions and results obtained.''
Harry Millis, tire industry analyst with Fundamental Research in Cleveland, called the failures ``some sort of fluke.''
``Michelin's quality control is superb, and its adjustments in the field among the lowest in the industry,'' he said. ``I can only imagine that they made a bad batch while making changes in one factory. As for its significance, unless the government says it won't buy cars or light trucks with (MAST) original equipment tires, I can't imagine this will be a major or long-term problem.''
Under GSA guidelines, tire makers cannot be certified for government procurement on the agency's Qualified Products List until they pass quality testing.
The tests measure treadwear, casing durability and other features. The tests must be reperformed periodically, and Mr. Collings said the GSA often spot-tests tires at random to ensure compliance. At least nine out of 10 pass the spot tests, he added.
For its most recent passenger testing, MAST submitted a Michelin XA4, a Uniroyal Tiger Paw and a Goodrich Lifesaver AW and, in LT tires, a Uniroyal Laredo and a Goodrich Commercial LT. Only the Lifesaver AW passed.
According to Mr. Collings, Michelin told him it was phasing out the XA4 anyway, and would submit another model for testing.
But the failed LT tires are bad not only for MAST, but also for government agencies in the western U.S. The tire maker is ``a very large bidder'' in all-terrain LT tires for government vehicles in that region, he said.
``In (LT) tire testing, the manufacturer will submit a tire with a rib-type or all-season tread,'' Mr. Collings said. ``If the tire qualifies, the qualification is extended to tires of the same model with specialized treads-off-road, all-terrain and the like. Those treads aren't designed for mileage, so all they need is to have the same casing construction.
``This means manufacturers only have to test one tire to get eight or nine on the QPL,'' he added. ``But when that one tire fails the test, all nine tires come off the list.''