WASHINGTON-A public meeting on how to improve federal auto safety programs featured verbal sparring on the worth of grading passenger tires for rolling resistance and fuel economy. ``Innovative, market-based ideas'' such as fuel economy labeling should be promoted, according to Kenneth W. Farber, a Washington attorney representing Michelin North America Inc.
But Jim J. Tozzi of Multinational Business Services Inc., a consulting firm representing four other tire makers, said the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration should focus first and foremost on safety, and insisted the pending rule on tire fuel economy labeling is a bad idea.
First suggested by Michelin, the rating idea became part of President Clinton's Global Climate Action Plan in October 1993. The most recent Transportation Department appropriations bill requires NHTSA to set a final labeling rule by June of this year.
Lowering tire rolling resistance by an average of 4 percent, Mr. Farber said, will reduce U.S. oil dependency by 30-40 million barrels daily in the year 2000 and 50-70 million barrels daily in 2010. It also will stimulate $2.2 billion in private sector investment between 1994 and 2000.
Most importantly, fuel economy labeling will reduce the projected level of greenhouse gas emissions in 2000 by 1.5 million metric tons, according to Mr. Farber. ``Moreover, it is an approach that is not proscriptive, but rather allows consumers and businesses to make better-informed purchasing decisions-decisions that can improve public health and the environment,'' he said.
But Mr. Tozzi said the NHTSA advance notice on the proposed labeling rule was a good example of the agency not putting safety concerns ``up front.'' Promoting lower rolling resistance, he insisted, cannot be achieved without a corresponding loss of traction.
``Although the regulation is not yet final, it shows clear signs of obsolescence,'' he said. ``The need for the regulation and its practical utility are dubious, because its purported benefits have not been demonstrated and its costs are likely to be significant.''
Mr. Farber called Mr. Tozzi's statement ``an ill-conceived and spurious argument'' without any factual basis.
``I am certain that NHTSA would not be at the final stages of issuing a proposed rule if it were concerned that the rule would compromise tire safety,'' he said. ``More importantly, from the perspective of Michelin, we would never have (recommended fuel economy grading) had there been the slightest possibility that the Michelin concept would compromise tire safety.''
Mr. Farber urged NHTSA to issue the final rule by June.