Specialty tire makers Hoosier Racing Tire Corp., Denman Tire Corp. and Specialty Tires of America Inc. are fighting for their lives.
The three independent companies are petitioning the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration to exclude low-volume specialty and bias-ply tires from proposed new federal tire safety standards and allow them to be governed by the existing regulations.
Both Hoosier and Specialty said in written statements the increased costs of compliance would force them to discontinue certain product lines unless they are granted relief. Denman said its very existence as a manufacturer is threatened unless NHTSA grants relief.
Together the three firms employ more than 1,000 in tire making jobs at four factories.
The companies are seeking a meeting with NHTSA officials before a June 5 deadline for comments on the proposed new standard, Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard 139, according to Frank Randolph, vice president, quality and product technology for Denman.
Specialty said in a statement to NHTSA that if its products are subject to the testing requirements proposed by FMVSS 139, ``compliance at any cost will not be possible'' for a large portion of its product range.
``This action would result in an adverse effect on more than 25 percent of our revenue and employment and remove from the market a number of perfectly safe products,'' Specialty said. One product line singled out by Specialty is tires for collector car enthusiasts. Tires made for vehicles built prior to 1975 already are exempt from the new regulations, Mr. Randolph said, which would cover most if not all bias-ply vintage tires.
The three companies estimate it would cost at least $3,000 per tire lot (size and type) to conduct the high speed endurance wheel tests outlined in the new regulations. In Denman's case, the company has between 2,500 and 3,000 lots a year, Mr. Randolph said, imposing a regulatory burden of up to $9 million a year.
Specialty said complying with the testing would add more than $1.5 million to its costs ``without any identifiable benefit to consumers or the traveling public.''
This cost does not take into account complying with other new tests in the standard, nor the cost of redesigning tires to meet the regulations, Mr. Randolph said.
In its letter to NHTSA, Greensburg, Pa.-based Specialty said the proposed standards ``are wholly inappropriate for bias-ply tires and will potentially result in the outlawing of bias-ply tires from the light vehicle market.''
Specialty is asking NHTSA to retain the performance standards in the existing FMVSS 109 and 129-for passenger and light truck tires, respectively-for light vehicle bias-ply tires. Specialty's letter is signed by Donald D. Mateer III, president and CEO.
The combined production of affected tires by the three companies represents less than 1 percent of U.S. passenger and light truck tire production in any given year, according to the firms' statements.
In its letter to NHTSA, Hoosier said if such specialty tires were to double in price or even disappear from the market, consumers likely would not replace used tires as frequently, or not at all, or with tires inappropriate for the use, resulting in decreased safety.
Lakeville, Ind.-based Hoosier has gone so far as to appeal to customers of its DOT-approved specialty tires to help it seek an exemption to certain provisions of the Transportation Recall Enhancement, Accountability and Documentation (TREAD) Act.
While fully supporting the act's guidelines as they pertain to street tires, Hoosier claims the proposal would have a ``devastating impact'' on its ability to make DOT-approved specialty tires for racing at affordable prices. Hoosier President and CEO Robert L. Newton signed the letter to NHTSA.
``At a minimum,'' the company wrote in a letter to customers on its Web site, ``if required to comply with the proposed standards, the cost of Hoosier DOT specialty tires will dramatically increase. But more likely, Hoosier might be forced to exit these markets and cease offering tires...due to cost ramifications resulting from complying with the new standards.
``While these increased standards are long overdue on mass-produced passenger car/light truck tires,'' the company wrote, ``we feel they were not applicable to small quantities of specialized tires that have had an exemplary safety record.''
In its Web letter, Hoosier suggests that the DOT exempt passenger and light truck tires with annual production runs of no more than 15,000 units of the same size and design from the new regulations. There is precedence for this exemption, Mr. Randolph said, in the Uniform Tire Quality Grading Standard.
The Web letter outlines how customers can submit comments to the Department of Transportation via the DOT's Web site.
Hoosier Tire claims to be the largest race tire maker in the world, producing more than 1,000 types of race tires at its plant in Plymouth, Ind. It supplies DOT-approved racing tires to dozens of racing series in asphalt and dirt oval track, road racing and drag racing.
Hoosier also is discussing the situation with the sanctioning bodies that organize the racing series it supplies, to ascertain whether they would be willing to change their rules to accommodate tires not carrying DOT certification. Most ``pure-bred'' race tires are not DOT certified.
The firm also sells Hoosier private brand passenger and light truck radials that are made by Goodyear.
The three tire makers are not members of the Rubber Manufacturers Association, and instead are counting on the Specialty Equipment Market Association's Washington office for assistance in their efforts to convince the appropriate governing bodies to hear their plea.