SAN FRANCISCO—City officials want to put the brakes on Michelin North America's BFGoodrich Scorchers and other tires that they say can leave colored skid marks. In the last week of September, the San Francisco Board of Supervisors introduced a measure that, if passed, would outlaw the sale of tires with permanent colorized tread. In addition, the tire manufacturer would be responsible for the cost of cleaning city streets ``vandalized by colored skid marks.''
``The Scorcher tire is an irresponsible product that serves no useful purpose,'' Supervisor Mabel Teng said. ``Conversely, it promotes unsafe driving, encourages the defacement of city streets, and may incite gang activity.
``We asked Michelin to voluntarily remove these tires from the market. Their refusal has left the board with little choice.''
The measure was supported by eight of San Francisco's 11 board members. Other communities in Northern California that are against the colored tires, Ms. Teng said, include the cities of San Jose and Gilroy as well as Marin County.
Ms. Teng took up the fight against the BFG Scorcher T/A tire line after seeing Michelin's initial promotional video, which depicted burn-outs and colored skid marks. The yellow version of the Scorcher was introduced to the public last month. Red and blue versions are to follow.
Michelin axed the controversial footage, apologized for ``misconceptions'' and insisted it did not condone reckless or illegal driving. Although in a July 29 press release the company's BFGoodrich unit said it plans to ``work closely with all concerned parties prior to the release of additional color tires in early 2000,'' it has refused to pull the tire from the Northern California market.
Ms. Teng's aide, Matthew Lonner, called the tire maker's response ``disingenuous.''
``It's like saying Joe Camel is not intended to appeal to children,'' he said. ``Therefore, peeling out has nothing to do with the product?
``But the underlying intent is obvious or they wouldn't have put the peeling out in there in the first place. It's just common sense.''
Asked how San Francisco officials could justify banning the sale of the tire, Mr. Lonner replied: ``The closest analogy is fireworks. Cities ban them all the time because of the danger. And recently the Board of Supervisors banned the sale of laser pointers. When there's a public safety motivation, it's not unprecedented.''
Meanwhile, a Michelin spokeswoman responded with consternation: ``We never would have envisioned such a reaction to this new product. We feel it's unfortunate that people are misunderstanding the true reason for this product.''
According to company officials, over the course of two years, Michelin conducted 11 market studies—ranging from very qualitative to quantitative—to determine the potential use of color in tires. They included a proactive aesthetics study; ``Designer Days'' at the Los Angeles and Detroit auto shows to gauge reaction of professional designers to the use of color in tires; surveys of media and consumers; focus groups; and strategic color-tire placements on vehicles.
Did the company envision the potential of Scorchers being used by gang members, as Ms. Teng and other opponents claim?
``Of course not,'' the Michelin spokeswoman said. ``This tire was developed to meet the demand for color customization in the growing specialty aftermarket industry.'' She declined to identify the agency that put together the original video showing the burnout.
Jim Templin, manager of an America's Tire Co. store in Campbell, Calif., about 50 miles south of San Francisco, said the ruckus is silly. ``I think that any local government that tries to protect the people from themselves, that says, `We're not going to let you have this because you might get hurt,' is missing the point. We are long past that.
``If things like this can be legislated, are we really free? Are we really free to make our own choices at that point?''
Mr. Templin, stressing that he was speaking for himself and not the company, said he's ``sitting on the fence'' until he finds out the fate of the proposed ban.
``It's a great product, and great looking,'' he said, ``but if that legislation does pass and I have to turn around and put another set on a car well, if I sell 100 sets of tires, that's a lot of work.
``I'm a businessman. I don't want that kind of headache. I'd prefer not to put on any until I know they can stay on someone's car.''
Besides, the dozen or so inquiries he's had for the tires were all for red or blue Scorchers, not the yellow that is the only color currently available.
But a tire distributor in Los Angeles who has been in the business for more than 30 years and has seen many trends, stated: ``Colored tread tires are a dumb idea.''
The wholesaler, who didn't want to be identified, said, ``First of all, they want double the money for it. And it will never sell. The inventory's wrong. Everything's wrong. It will never work.
``And the first time a gang member puts them on his car, no one else will want them on their car.''