When more than 200 tire dealers and auto aftermarket officials met in Washington in February for the Aftermarket Legislative Summit, they identified three major pieces of legislation as their priorities:
The Motor Vehicle Owners' Right-to-Repair Act would have guaranteed independent repair shops reasonable access to auto manufacturers' repair and service information.
An Association Health Plans bill would have allowed associations to offer federally regulated health plans across state lines.
Legislation was sought to limit liability in asbestos litigation-an issue particularly important for repair shops that service brakes.
But at the end of a supercharged legislative year-in which concerns with the war in Iraq, Medicare reform and other issues grabbed the spotlight and the headlines much of the time-Congress had not gotten very far with any part of the aftermarket's wish list.
For example, the Asbestos Claim Criteria and Compensation Act failed to advance beyond its Feb. 13 introduction. Sponsored by Sen. Don Nickles, R-Okla., the bill sets forth strict medical criteria under which prospective asbestos claimants may sue corporations and other potential defendants.
Though supported by a wide coalition of industry groups, the Nickles bill gets a thumbs-down from labor unions and plaintiffs' attorneys, who call the bill an unwarranted limitation on workers' rights to seek redress for asbestos-related illness.
Similarly, a bill to establish Association Health Plans (AHP) has passed the House but stalled in the Senate. That was due, at least in part, because of the hostility of Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, R-Tenn. The Tire Industry Association (TIA) estimates it alone could insure some 15,000 families who don't currently have health insurance if an AHP plan becomes law. In October, TIA announced a new business insurance plan for its members in partnership with Universal Underwriters Insurance Co.
The Right-to-Repair Act-which would mandate strict sanctions against auto makers that don't provide repair and service information to independent shops in an affordable, readily available manner-is a particular sore point in the aftermarket.
One industry group, the Automotive Service Association (ASA), negotiated a deal in 2002 with all major auto makers except Porsche Cars North America Inc. to provide informational Web sites offering service and repair data to independent repairers. In April 2003, the ASA said all the signatories to the agreement had honored their commitments under the agreement, four months before the Aug. 31 deadline.
Other aftermarket groups, however, said they would continue to push for legislation. Without sanctions, they insisted, auto makers could renege on the ASA agreement with impunity.
Tire dealers and manufacturers were also disappointed by the Senate's Oct. 22 failure to end a filibuster on class-action lawsuit reform legislation and proceed to a vote. That bill stated among other things that any class action involving more than 100 plaintiffs and $5 million in liability may be moved to federal court from state venues when fewer than one-third of the plaintiffs live in that state.
The one-vote failure, however, gave the industry hope for the future. A similar bill passed the House June 12.
Among state bills, TIA and the Washington-based Rubber Manufacturers Association vowed to help the New York Tire Dealers Association fight provisions in that state's new scrap tire law.
New York dealers are unhappy that the law expressly forbids them from making the fee a separate line item in billing, thus making it look as if New York dealers are simply charging more for their tires than competitors in neighboring states. Also, the bulk of the $2.50-per-tire fee goes to the state's general fund, not to scrap tire programs.
Meanwhile, tire dealers and manufacturers braced themselves for the new California law, passed Sept. 4, to create energy efficiency standards for replacement tires. Under the law, the State Energy Resources Conservation Board, in consultation with the California Integrated Waste Management Board, must adopt a statewide energy efficiency program by July 1, 2007, and implement it by July 1, 2008.
Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., was foiled in his attempt to add a similar provision to the omnibus energy policy bill, which failed to pass anyway.
Also in the Golden State, retreaders were hoping for some relief from a rule issued by the California Integrated Waste Management Board (CIWMB) that created what some in the industry consider a burdensome waste tire manifest policy. It requires documenting the transportation of 10 or more waste or used tires. If haulers don't possess copies of manifests and trip logs, they could face fines up to $25,000. Representatives from the Tire Retread Information Bureau, Rubber Manufacturers Association, TIA, the Tread Rubber & Tire Repair Materials Manufacturers Group, California tire dealer associations and several large dealerships that do retreading have met with the CIWMB to resolve their concerns.
Also on the national front, another issue that could cause anxiety for retreaders came to the fore when the U.S. Postal Service (USPS) said it wanted to triple its use of retread tires in its vehicle fleet. However, accomplishing that would come from awarding a nationwide retread supply contract to a large retread technology company. Some smaller retreading firms were concerned they could lose the local USPS retreading contracts that have been their bread and butter. There was a possibility some retreaders could be awarded subcontracts from whichever larger company secured the national contract, but there was no guarantee of that, according to TIA. The two companies in the running to land the deal were Goodyear-already the USPS's sole supplier of new tires for its fleet of 200,000 ground vehicles-or Cooper Tire & Rubber Co.'s Oliver Rubber Co. subsidiary. Bandag Inc. dropped out of consideration for the contract.