The Tire Industry Association (TIA) will refrain for now from taking its plan for a checkoff program to Congress, saying it needs time to build support for the plan among the rest of the tire industry.
According to TIA's leadership, the association had no choice but to back off from the program after a March 4 letter from the Rubber Manufacturers Association (RMA) withdrawing all support for the idea.
``Politically, what can you do?'' said Roy E. Littlefield III, TIA executive vice president. ``We're not giving up on the idea, but we're being realistic in that we realize we must have an industry consensus before we can go ahead.''
If approved by the tire industry and by Congress, the checkoff program would charge tire manufacturers and dealers a small portion of their profits to fund consumer education and an industry and government training program.
Although TIA officials are still enthusiastic about the idea, RMA leadership was somewhat leery of it from the beginning, and in his March 4 letter to Mr. Littlefield, RMA President Donald B. Shea said his association opposed the plan.
``In recent weeks, tire manufacturers have been contacted by significant customers voicing opposition to the checkoff proposal,'' Mr. Shea wrote. He also noted the recent federal appeals court decisions that declared unconstitutional the checkoff programs in the beef, pork and dairy industries. Farmers and ranchers who objected to paying the checkoff fees claimed the industry promotional programs were an abridgement of their First Amendment rights, and the courts in every case agreed.
``RMA counsel does not believe TIA's checkoff proposal would withstand judicial scrutiny,'' Mr. Shea wrote. ``With the myriad legislative and regulatory issues confronting us, we do not believe this industry can afford to be distracted by the legal challenges that would surely ensue if this proposal were to be pursued.''
The RMA is not the only industry association to voice objections to the TIA checkoff plan. Last November, the Texas Tire Dealers Association voted to oppose the program, fearing it would become a backdoor tax on the industry.
Mr. Littlefield said TIA designed its checkoff plan carefully to deflect the sort of court challenges the other checkoff programs received. For example, the pork, beef and milk programs were challenged on their advertising campaigns, which the tire program would de-emphasize in favor of education and training.
``We feel this program is unique compared with almost any other checkoff program in existence,'' he said.
TIA President Larry Morgan said the association didn't want to make a full industry push for a checkoff program while it was still negotiating with the RMA on the form the program should take.
``Some people might think we did a poor job of communication,'' he said. ``But the RMA asked us to hold off.''
Everyone in the tire industry agrees that something needs to be done to boost the industry's public image, ``but there's no unanimity on how to go about it,'' Mr. Morgan told Tire Business. ``We want to move forward with this, but we aren't going at full speed.''
For his part, Mr. Morgan, a very vocal supporter of TIA's checkoff program, has promoted it on his many visits to dealer groups and associations over the past several months.
TIA will go forward working with tire dealers and manufacturers to educate them on the benefits of a checkoff program to the industry, Mr. Littlefield said. The association plans to meet this year with representatives of all the major tire manufacturers-not just on checkoff but on all issues of importance to the industry, he said.
A meeting scheduled for late March between Mr. Shea and Mr. Littlefield was postponed when Mr. Shea had a conflict, Mr. Littlefield said. He added that he hoped to reschedule it very soon.