WASHINGTON-Michelin North America is ``delighted'' with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration proposal to establish a federal rolling resistance/fuel economy tire grading requirement. But other tire companies are clearly disappointed, though all except Goodyear declined public comment.
The NHTSA proposed rule-published in the May 24 Federal Register-presents the rolling resistance grade as a replacement for the current temperature resistance grade in the Uniform Tire Quality Grading Standards.
It also establishes an ``AA'' traction grade for tires with particularly high traction performance, and revises treadwear testing procedures to maintain the base course wear rate (BCWR) of course monitoring tires at its current value.
Maintaining the current BCWR, the agency said, ``should eliminate treadwear grade inflation, reduce testing expenses and reduce the adverse environmental consequences of operating testing convoys.''
The rolling resistance grade was mandated by President Clinton's Climate Change Action Plan to reduce greenhouse gases, and was first recommended by Michelin. The current appropriations rule for the Transportation Department required a final rule on rolling resistance by June 1, 1995.
Because of the need to stay as close as possible to that timetable, NHTSA said, the usual 60-day comment period for a proposed rule has been shortened to 45 days. July 10 is the deadline for comments, and opponents of the fuel economy rule said the short deadline will make responding to the proposal difficult.
In championing the rolling resistance grade, Michelin said it will reduce U.S. oil dependency 40 million to 50 million barrels daily and reduce annual greenhouse gas emissions 1.5 million metric tons by 2000.
Automakers have required ever lower rolling resistance on tires, according to Michelin, and since 1980 rolling resistance has been reduced as much as 50 percent without loss of traction or other performance characteristics.
Other tire makers, however, said the rolling resistance grade would be costly and useless, or harmful to consumers. Few tire buyers would pay attention to it, they claimed, and those who did would sacrifice traction and other safety features in the desire to save fuel.
Bridgestone/Firestone Inc. concurred with Michelin that automakers have forced rolling resistance reductions in OE tires. BFS added, however, that those reductions already are built into replacement tires, obviating the need for a rolling resistance grade.
In affirming a need for the grade, NHTSA asked for comments on whether letter grades (A, B and C) or some sort of mark that quantifies potential fuel savings would be more useful to consumers.
Michelin also was the only tire company to support an ``AA'' traction rating for tires. Other companies said the new grade would be costly and confusing to tire buyers.
Kenneth W. Farber, a Washington attorney representing Michelin, said the company is ``delighted'' with the rolling resistance grade decision and ``generally supportive'' of the rest of the rule.
Michelin prefers a rolling resistance grade that would quantify fuel economy savings, according to Mr. Farber. ``But right now we just want to work with the folks at NHTSA to get the rule in final form, to achieve fuel economy savings and greenhouse gas reductions.''
Goodyear reiterated its opposition to a rolling resistance grade. ``We will continue to question the underlying rationale (for the grade), as well as the alleged benefits to be gained from this type of forced regulation,'' the company said in a prepared statement.
Multinational Business Services Inc., a Washing-ton organization representing the opponents to a rolling resistance grade, is still studying the proposed rule, according to Frank Timmons, an MBS consultant and a former vice president of the Rubber Manufacturers Association.
``We're a little disappointed NHTSA didn't take into account any of the docket submissions MBS made this year,'' Mr. Timmons said. Tire makers, including many of MBS' clients, declined comment.
Meanwhile, the Personal Motor Vehicle Greenhouse Gas Reductions Advisory Committee continues to meet to discuss ways of reducing vehicle greenhouse gas emissions.
While the committee disagrees-at times acrimoniously-its members do agree in the belief that a rolling resistance/fuel economy tire grade is necessary.
At their latest meeting in Washington, May 23-25, they discussed possible ways to enforce low rolling resistance for tires, including fees and taxes.