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Published on July 5, 2005

Hold off on tire fuel-efficiency bill



AKRON (July 4, 2005) — Here we go again. Congress is considering new legislation for the tire industry without having sufficient data from which to draw logical conclusions.

This time it's the idea of establishing a "National Tire Fuel Efficiency Program." It would mandate that replacement passenger and light truck tires have the same or better fuel efficiency than original equipment tires.

Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y, is behind the amendment to the Senate energy bill that would establish tire fuel-efficiency standards for replacement tires. Based on a measure passed in California two years ago, the amendment also states the standards must not interfere with tire safety, tread life and scrap tire management and must be technically feasible and cost-effective for consumers.

With oil prices topping $60 a barrel, looking at how tires can help reduce the country's thirst for oil makes sense.

But why seek a federal rule to set rolling-resistance standards before studies on the subject by organizations such as the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) and the California Energy Commission have been completed?

That makes no sense at all.

Anyone with any knowledge of tire manufacturing and design knows that tire development is an exercise in trade-offs. Increasing one performance characteristic affects others, usually negatively.

As a result, tire makers are constantly tweaking the various design elements striving for that optimum blend of performance, safety, wear and comfort.

Forcing them to place an emphasis on just one parameter—rolling resistance—changes this approach to tire design and development. The end result could be a trade-off—rolling resistance for wet grip and traction, for example. That would negate the goal Congress is trying to achieve.

There's also the question of how much fuel would be saved.

The Rubber Manufacturers Association, in its opposition to a tire fuel-efficiency bill in Massachusetts, said tires account for only 4 percent of the fuel energy used by any vehicle.

The NAS has estimated the fuel savings from a low-rolling-resistance standard would be only 1 to 1.5 percent, and that's assuming all drivers keep their tires aired up at the ideal inflation pressures—something many studies indicate they simply don't do.

Those are not the kind of numbers that should compel lawmakers to jump up and establish yet another rule on the tire industry that may not achieve the desired results.

Congress should delay action on mandating fuel-efficient tires until it has more definitive information. Only then can legislators cast a knowledgeable vote.


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