-The Tire Industry Association (TIA) hasn't abandoned its plan for an industrywide checkoff program but said it wants to do more homework before moving forward.
A major state association, meanwhile, reaffirmed its opposition to TIA's checkoff proposal.
In a Jan. 23 letter to media, TIA Executive Vice President Roy Littlefield said William Reynolds, a University of Maryland law professor commissioned by the association, felt ``very comfortable'' with TIA's checkoff proposal after assessing recent court decisions regarding the constitutionality of checkoff programs.
But an attorney retained by the Rubber Manufacturers Association came to precisely the opposite conclusion after a similar review, an RMA spokesman said.
In a Feb. 4 phone interview, Mr. Littlefield said he still hopes, as he stated in his letter, to schedule a summit of large-volume dealers within the next six months to discuss checkoff issues. Before he does so, though, he plans to call those dealers to get their general feelings about a checkoff program. He also plans to ask the RMA to spell out its specific legal objections to the program.
``It would be very hard for us to go forward without broad industry support,'' he said.
The RMA spokesman said he knew of TIA's hopes to schedule a dealer summit on the checkoff proposal. ``It would make sense, since large-volume dealers and distributors basically would be the ones paying for a checkoff program,'' he said.
In his analysis, Mr. Reynolds said the program could withstand constitutional attack since it focuses more on consumer education about tire safety instead of advertising a product, even in a generic sense.
``A program designed to make a product's use safer and that does not treat the fee-payers differently is simply a fundamentally different animal than is product advertising-even of the generic variety,'' he wrote.
Still, he cautioned that there are no guarantees in constitutional litigation.
As proposed so far, the tire industry checkoff would include a fee charged on each new replacement highway vehicle tire manufactured or imported into the U.S. The program must be approved by Congress and will face an industry referendum. Participation is compulsory.
Peter Gunst, a Baltimore antitrust attorney hired by TIA, said Mr. Reynolds' opinion was sent to the RMA's attorney, although he hadn't received an immediate response. He said he doesn't expect TIA to seek other legal opinions.
``I think the legal issues have been addressed, certainly to our satisfaction,'' he told Tire Business.
Meanwhile, a major hurdle to acceptance of the checkoff program remained staunchly in place, as the board of directors of the Texas Tire Dealers Association voted Jan. 28 to reaffirm its opposition to the proposal.
The TTDA received a letter from TIA ``outlining the program in a little bit more detail,'' said TTDA Executive Director Chuck Space. Discussing the letter at its regularly scheduled meeting, he added, the board ``determined the letter contained no new information that would make it change its mind.''
Mr. Space said the checkoff program will be one of the topics of discussion at the association's annual convention in April.
``We're a member-driven association, so if the majority of our members support a checkoff program, we'll support it too,'' he said.
Meanwhile, TIA President Larry Morgan, a staunch proponent of the checkoff concept, continued to beat the drum for its acceptance.
On Feb. 6, during a speech at American Car Care Centers Inc.'s dealer/distributor meeting in Xcaret, Mexico, Mr. Morgan outlined the benefits of the program, declaring it an excellent way for the industry to help consumers appreciate the quality and technology of tires.
Tire Business Managing Editor Sigmund J. Mikolajczyk contributed to this report.