WASHINGTON-Of the four tire manufacturers and one tire association to respond so far to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration's call for comments, only Michelin North America urged the adoption of mandatory tire rolling resistance grades for fuel economy purposes. Goodyear, Bridgestone/Firestone Inc., General Tire and the Private Brand Tire Group, an affiliate of the National Tire Dealers & Retreaders Association, all opposed such a grading system. General Tire, however, said it would support a NHTSA-industry voluntary effort to develop rolling resistance test methods and information.
Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety, a coalition of consumer groups, favors rolling resistance-fuel economy grades, but only if NHTSA can ensure such grades won't cause consumers to sacrifice traction.
Last April, the agency suggested the possibility of either adding a rolling resistance grade to UTQG or using it as a replacement for the current temperature resistance grade. It did this on orders from President Clinton, who included a call for tire rolling resistance-fuel economy grades in his Climate Change Action Plan issued last October.
Michelin has championed these grades to NHTSA, saying ``the advantage of adding rolling resistance as a UTQG grade is that it gives the consumer the data needed to make an informed choice, considering fuel consumption and the environmental impact.''
Others were skeptical. ``Lower rolling resistance tires may not necessarily produce the desired improvement in the environment,'' Goodyear said, adding that such tires may wear out faster, be more difficult to recycle and cost more than other tires.
BFS said fuel economy probably won't persuade consumers to buy low rolling resistance tires.
Voluntary rolling resistance grades would, like speed ratings, be useful to manufacturers and consumers who wanted them, General Tire said. The methods of informing the public of low rolling resistance, however, should not be regulated, it added.
The Private Brand Tire Group insisted a rolling resistance grade would be just one more useless factor in a useless grading system largely irrelevant because consumers fail to understand and use it.
The Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety feared rolling resistance grades might prove detrimental to traction, and fuel savings gains ``could be made at the risk of reduced operating safety for some road users.''
Goodyear argued for scrapping treadwear grades altogether, claiming treadwear warranties are better indicators of a tire's treadlife, but said if NHTSA keeps treadwear grading, it should freeze the base course wear rate (BCWR) at the current 1.47 and develop a ``standardized, repeatable laboratory test.''