It was deja vu all over again at the July 28 National Highway Traffic Safety Administration hearing on the proposed tire rolling resistance grade. To recognize the similarities, you have to remember the events of 15 years ago, when the Uniform Tire Quality Grading System was first issued. Then, and for several years thereafter, all tire companies vehemently protested the new treadwear grade, even taking the matter to court.
All tire companies, that is, except Uniroyal, which graded its tires at least 80 treadwear points above everyone else's and emblazoned those grades across its advertising.
The tire industry is dramatically different now than it was in 1980. Uniroyal and B.F. Goodrich combined their tire operations, then sold out to Michelin. Both BFG and Michelin were among the loudest voices against the UTQG treadwear grade.
And now Michelin is the lone voice crying in the wilderness, championing the rolling resistance grade against the outraged opposition of all its colleagues.
Michelin has its patented XSE low-rolling-resistance, high-traction tire technology. Other companies have been quick to accuse Michelin of having no motive for supporting the rolling resistance grade other than an ulterior one.
But Michelin was able to persuade the President of the United States that the new grade will save millions of barrels of oil and substantially reduce carbon dioxide emissions.
Furthermore, as Michelin points out, all tire makers regularly meet automakers' increasing demands for lower rolling resistance, and a rolling resistance grade will encourage the same trend in the replacement market.
Other tire makers may have a point when they insist a rolling resistance grade won't save nearly as much fuel as Michelin says, and may force tire makers to promote rolling resistance at the expense of traction and treadwear.
But Uniroyal, backed by Congressional mandate, was the winner in 1980. Today Michelin is supported by mandates from both Congress and the White House.
Don't be surprised if that sort of backing is enough to make Michelin a majority of one.
Mr. Moore is Washington correspondent for TIRE BUSINESS.