Once again, politics have made strange bedfellows.
Public Citizen-the consumer watchdog group headed by Joan Claybrook that periodically has excoriated the tire industry for alleged indifference to driver safety-has joined four major tire companies and the Tire Industry Association (TIA) in a legal effort to have the new final rule on tire pressure monitoring systems (TPMS) overturned.
Just as interesting, however, is who isn't joining the suit filed June 6 before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit. The Rubber Manufacturers Association (RMA)-which staunchly opposes the TPMS standard and has petitioned for various changes to it-is not a party to the court action, saying there is no consensus among its tire maker members on that issue.
Tire makers that aren't involved in the suit are staying mum as to why. ``We just decided this was the thing to do,'' said a spokeswoman for Continental Tire North America Inc., which stayed out of the legal action.
Goodyear, Bridgestone/Firestone, Cooper Tire & Rubber Co. and Pirelli Tire L.L.C. joined TIA and Public Citizen in the suit against the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). The petition itself was brief, stating only the plaintiffs' belief that the TPMS rule is ``arbitrary and capricious''-the standard legal term used in opposition to a federal regulation-and should be vacated by the court.
In public statements, however, the various plaintiffs made plain their displeasure with the TPMS rule.
``We strongly believe the current TPMS rule is fundamentally flawed,'' Goodyear and Bridgestone/Firestone said in a joint statement. ``The tire industry has been united in our assertions that NHTSA's current rule may give motorists a false sense of security and actually may result in less safety rather than more.''
``This could be the first time in the history of rulemaking that the industries impacted by a proposed regulation do not think that the proposal is stringent enough,'' added Roy Littlefield, TIA executive vice president.
All the parties are unhappy with the rule's provision that motorists won't see a warning light until a tire is 25 percent below the vehicle manufacturer's recommended air pressure. TIA and Public Citizen also have made a point of criticizing the final rule's doubling of the allowable length of time between the system's picking up on a tire's underinflation and notifying the driver, to 20 minutes from 10.
Public Citizen noted that NHTSA defines the 20-minute provision as 20 minutes of continuous driving at 30 to 60 mph. ``This means that the system would be useless for someone who does a lot of city driving with attendant stops and starts,'' the group said. Public Citizen especially dislikes the lack of any provision to ensure that replacement tires are compatible with a vehicle's monitoring system. Replacement tires, it said, comprise 61 percent of passenger mileage and 54 percent of light truck mileage.
The agency has received about a dozen petitions for reconsideration on the April 7 rule, including petitions from Public Citizen, TIA, the RMA, the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers and the Specialty Equipment Market Association.
Michelin North America Inc. was among the very few individual tire makers to file its own petition with NHTSA. Like Conti, it did not join the lawsuit.
``For Michelin, this was the appropriate course of action,'' said Michael Fanning, Michelin vice president of corporate affairs. ``We're hopeful NHTSA will address our concerns in its reply to our petition.''
Michelin's petition joined the RMA in its opposition to the final rule's changes to the minimum activation pressures for Load Range D and E tires, and to a -2 psi adjustment to the TPMS activation point in the final rule's test procedures.
There is as yet no timetable for the appeals court's consideration of the TPMS lawsuit.
Two years ago Public Citizen and the Center for Auto Safety (CAS) sued the federal government to have the original TPMS proposed rule thrown out because of the rule's reliance on indirect systems-something mandated by the Office of Management and Budget.
The U.S. Second Circuit Court of Appeals in New York ruled for Public Citizen and CAS in August 2003.