The Rubber Manufacturers Association (RMA) is urging the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) to deny a tire importer's contention that mislabeled Chinese intermodal tires don't pose a significant safety hazard.
A RMA spokesman said the association's Sept. 21 letter to the agency comes from its position that all tire makers that sell their products in the U.S. should be required to uphold U.S. safety standards.
Foreign Tire Service (FTS) Inc. of Union, N.J., asked NHTSA for a finding of inconsequential noncompliance regarding 18,900 bias-ply tires, size 10.00-20. The tires were made by Wendeng Sanfeng Tire Co. Ltd. in Wendeng City, China, and imported to the U.S. between August 2005 and last April.
The tires, which are used on intermodal container chassis at U.S. ports, are marked ``DUAL USE ONLY'' and ``TRAILER SERVICE ONLY,'' according to FTS. However, the tires do not bear the single load-carrying designation required by NHTSA.
Lawrence N. Lavigne, attorney for FTS, argued in the petition that the omission of the single load-carrying designation won't cause any appreciable harm.
``The non-compliance does not implicate safety; it will have no impact on the operational performance of the tires or the vehicles on which they are used,'' Mr. Lavigne wrote in the July 25 petition to the agency. ``My client is not aware of a single incident resulting in either personal injury or property damage. Moreover, FTS has taken all necessary steps to remedy the non-compliance.''
Mr. Lavigne enclosed a February letter to NHTSA by Munroe Mariner, president of China Manufacturers Alliance L.L.C. in Pocomoke, Md., who took the blame for misdirecting Wendeng Sanfeng to omit the single load-carrying designation.
Insisting the tires presented no safety hazard whatsoever, Mr. Mariner wrote: ``The tires produced for this application far exceed the DOT requirements.''
Supporting FTS in a Sept. 7 letter was Bernard J. Vaughan, senior vice president, general counsel and secretary of Flexi-Van Leasing Inc., one of the nation's largest lessors of intermodal container chassis.
``We do not lease tractors, so we have no operational reason to install these tires on the drive or steer axle of a truck tractor,'' Mr. Vaughan wrote. ``The only realistic way that one of these tires could wind up on the drive or steer axle of a tractor-trailer would be if that tire was stolen off a chassis.''
The RMA, however, wasn't buying any of these arguments.
``While petitioner may not intend its non-compliant tires to be used anywhere other than a container chassis, there is no guarantee that the tires may not eventually be placed in a single load application,'' wrote Laurie Baulig, RMA senior vice president and general counsel.
The only really pertinent issue in this case, according to Ms. Baulig, is whether the tires meet federal endurance and strength standards and the petitioner presents no evidence that they do, she claimed. Furthermore, FTS violated the inconsequential noncompliance standard by not reporting the error within five working days of discovering it, she added.
FTS, in its petition, said it believed that Mr. Mariner's letter took care of the problem and only later learned it had to file a petition for inconsequential noncompliance. ``RMA is concerned that if the petition is granted without verification of compliance with...performance standards, the questionable conduct of these importers may continue,'' Ms. Baulig wrote.
The RMA spokesman said he expected NHTSA to rule on the FTS petition very shortly.