WASHINGTON-Four major tire companies have joined to hire a Washington consulting firm to represent them in opposing fuel economy grades for tires. Frank E. Timmons, former vice president-technical and standards of the Rubber Manufacturers Association, joined the firm, Multinational Business Services Inc. (MBS), as a consultant on the tire grading issue in January.
The four companies-Goodyear, Bridgestone/Firestone Inc., Cooper Tire & Rubber Co. and Dunlop Tire Corp.-are united in their belief that grading tires for low rolling resistance and fuel economy should at least be deferred until the Uniform Tire Quality Grading System is overhauled.
This position pits them against Michelin North America, which lobbied successfully to get President Clinton to include low rolling resistance grading in his Global Climate Action Plan.
The current Transportation Department budget requires the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration to issue a final rule on the issue by June, but the 104th Congress may not enforce this deadline.
Michelin declined comment on the matter, but BFS and Goodyear confirmed they joined with the other companies to hire MBS.
``There's not much to say, except that we are together on this issue, and we hired someone to represent us,'' a BFS spokesman said. It is no secret that UTQG grades are very misleading, he added, and his company opposes any new non-safety grades until the variables in the system are fully addressed.
Mr. Timmons, who served 31 years with the RMA, was not scheduled to retire from the association until June. He did not discuss his reasons for early retirement, but said his job at MBS was not motivated by animosity toward Michelin.
``I've talked to several people at Michelin,'' Mr. Timmons said. ``They would rather I didn't work on this issue from an opposing point of view, but they realize that it's business.''
MBS urged NHTSA to proceed with UTQG reform but hold off on low rolling resistance ratings in a Jan. 12 docket submission.
``NHTSA's own candid assessment...of the current UTQGS grading system provides substantial evidence that the current UTQGS are fundamentally flawed,'' MBS said.
But rolling resistance is dependent on variables, including tire composition, inflation and weather conditions, that make the applicability of a grade questionable.
``Until NHTSA can assure the public that the technical aspects of conducting LRR testing can be addressed in a thoroughly satisfactory manner, it seems a clear waste of agency resources to initiate a proposed rulemaking on LRR,'' wrote MBS Director Jim J. Tozzi. ``MBS requests that NHTSA re-evaluate its technical basis for even beginning a LRR rulemaking.''
MBS, according to Mr. Tozzi, is a regulatory and trade counseling firm whose staffers mostly are former officials of the Office of Management and Budget.