Specialty tire makers Denman Tire Corp., Hoosier Racing Tire Corp. and Specialty Tires of America Inc. are enjoying a groundswell of public suppoert in their efforts to obtain relief from proposed new federal tire testing regulations.
More than 5,000 auto racing and classic car enthusiasts flooded the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration with e-mails in June, telling the agency, ``Leave our specialty tires alone!'' Nearly all these comments were brief, largely identical e-mail messages from private citizens.
Their comments complemented support the Specialty Equipment Market Association (SEMA), the Tire Association of North America; the International Tire & Rubber Association, Sens. Richard Lugar and Evan Bayh of Indiana; and Reps. Bill Jenkins, R-Tenn., and Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, have thrown behind the companies' efforts.
Separately, the consumer watchdog group Consumers Union, while mostly approving of the proposed rule, recommended abolishing the temperature resistance grade under the Uniform Tire Quality Grading System, arguing the proposal makes it obsolete.
Of the 5,155 comments in NHTSA's docket on the tire testing rule as of June 14, all but about 100 were e-mail messages from private citizens. These urged the agency to allow the existing standards for passenger and light truck tires to remain in place for tires with annual production of 15,000 units or less.
``The proposed changes will either increase the cost of these tires prohibitively or cause the manufacturers to cease production,'' read the e-mail of a man named Steve Bearden, address not given. ``These specialty tires have a better-than-average safety record due to the excellent maintenance provided by their owners during their operational lifetime.''
``I ask that some sort of exception be made for tires that are not intended for street performance in the first place,'' read another, unsigned e-mail whose author was identified on the NHTSA Web site as Schmidt Peter. ``These are tires that avid racers research, test and compare with all other tires, trying to be better.''
SEMA, an automotive aftermarket trade association comprised of 5,100 mostly small businesses, told NHTSA in a June 5 letter that the specialty tire industry's ``unchallenged safety record, limited production and unique use of specialty aftermarket bias-ply and radial tires justifies continued compliance with the existing tire standards'' of Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard Nos. 109 and 119.
``NHTSA cannot justify subjecting these small specialty tire manufacturers to overarching new regulations that will eliminate bias-ply tires, and, at a minimum, severely curtail production of specialty radial tires without either evidence of a safety problem or conclusive proof that the design of these tires are substandard for their current applications,'' SEMA said.
The association's comments focus on whether it is necessary to update the tire performance standards as they apply to small production runs of specialty aftermarket bias-ply and radial tires.
With respect to safety, SEMA said it strongly recommends the proposed rule focus on proven safety-related defects (or lack thereof) in the production or use of specialty bias-ply or radial tires.
The group also voiced concerns that any new regulations not place an overwhelming burden on the small business economy. In this case, it would include not only the small tire manufacturers, but also their product warehousers and distributors as well as installation shops, retail outlets and end consumers.
Taking a completely different tack, Consumers Union noted that the agency's proposed high-speed test measures a tire's ability to dissipate heat, much like UTQG testing does.
``Unfortunately, the UTQGS temperature grade system provides redundant information and it is sometimes contradictory to the speed rating on the tire,'' Consumers Union said. ``Further, it appears that only A- and B-graded tires could pass the new high speed test...CU recommends that NHTSA abolish the UTQGS' temperature grade system altogether.''
June 5 was the deadline for comments on the rule.
Meanwhile, the final rule upgrading federal tire testing and performance standards could reach the Deputy Transportation Secretary's desk by the end of September, according to Jeffrey Runge, administrator of the National HighwayTraffic Safety Administration.
``We want to make sure we get it right,'' said Mr. Runge, who added that the volume of data the agency received by its June 5 deadline was both ``prodigious'' and very persuasive.
Commenters included the Rubber Manufacturers Association, which said based on its own research that more than 40 percent of all current passenger tires and over half of all light truck tires would fail the agency's revised tests.