AKRON (Aug. 31, 2009)—The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) had better get it right when it unveils its fuel-efficiency rating system and consumer education campaign to the public.
The last thing the industry and consumers need is an expensive tire program that fails to do what it's supposed to do, costs tire makers money, gives retailers headaches and confuses buyers.
What's required is an easy-to-understand rating system and an educational program that resonates with consumers.
NHTSA officials would be wise to keep these points at the forefront as they make decisions and implement the mandated fuel-efficiency rating system and education campaign. Otherwise the program is doomed to failure.
The agency only has to look at the misunderstood Uniform Tire Quality Grading (UTQG) system to see how a good idea can run aground. Because the 31-year-old UTQG system—which provides information on tire temperature, traction and treadwear—is difficult to understand, it is rarely used by tire retailers or consumers.
In light of that, we agree with Tire Rack that NHTSA should dump the UTQG ratings in favor of the new fuel-efficiency ratings, which also include treadwear and wet traction grades.
In addition, NHTSA should seriously consider working with the Tire Industry Association (TIA)—which for years has operated tried-and-true training programs—in developing and operating the consumer information portion of the fuel-efficiency rule.
Doing so would ensure that the rule and ratings are understood by the people who have the most contact and influence with tire consumers. That means the dealership service counter personnel, who will be explaining the new fuel-efficiency ratings to consumers.
NHTSA should not underestimate the importance of that.
As the U.S.'s only national association for tire dealers and a leader in tire service and technical training, TIA is in a unique position to train and work with tire dealers and other tire retailers in their understanding of the new rating system.
As TIA correctly stated in its comments to NHTSA, the agency "continues to underestimate the extreme importance of the dialogue between the consumer and the sales associate at the point of sale" in explaining the ratings.
The agency favors posters, pamphlets, etc.
It is dealership personnel who will be on the front lines fielding questions about the new ratings. That will take some investment—in time and capital—on the part of tire store owners to pull that off. If that information can't be clearly explained, there's little chance consumers will understand it.
NHTSA undoubtedly wants its fuel-efficiency rating program to work. It must not overlook the importance tire retailers can have in the process.