WASHINGTON — Massive changes that 2017 brought to Washington make predicting 2018 all the more difficult, according to industry association representatives.
The Trump administration has demonstrated genuine concern about business growth and the government-related handicaps businesses face, association officials said.
"With the Trump administration, you don't have to watch for the Federal Register to come out at 4 a.m. to see what the surprises might be," said Robert L. Redding, Washington representative for the Automotive Service Association (ASA).
On the other hand, the administration's focus on reducing regulatory burdens, while beneficial on its face, has led to delay and confusion in necessary regulatory activity, they said.
"The length of time getting people confirmed is a problem," Mr. Redding said. "There's no NHTSA administrator, no head of the Federal Insurance Office, no head at the FTC."
Meanwhile, it has yet to be seen what benefits the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act President Trump signed into law on Dec. 22 will bring small business, they said.
"For some people, it's a great bill," said Roy E. Littlefield III, executive vice president of the Tire Industry Association (TIA). "We will have to do a lot of work in conference to make sure small business also benefits."
Here are some of the main issues the tire and auto service industries will be watching in 2018:
The U.S. Tire Manufacturers Association (UTSMA) voiced support of plans by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) to eliminate unnecessary, outdated and redundant regulations.
The USTMA suggested a number of tire-related regulations that could be repealed, including the bead-unseating test required under federal tire safety standards and the Uniform Tire Quality Grading System.
As of early December, though, Mr. Trump had not answered a Sept. 20 request by USTMA President and CEO Anne Forristall Luke that his administration appoint a NHTSA administrator as soon as possible.
The USTMA is working closely with NHTSA's professional staff, as well as with congressional committees that have oversight over the agency, toward that end, Ms. Luke said. Not having an administrator in place makes it difficult for NHTSA to act on important pending rules, such as revisions in tire registration procedures and the consumer education portion of the tire fuel-efficiency labeling standard, she added.
"Outside the tire industry, NHTSA has a very important safety mandate," she said. "The staff is doing very good work in moving that mission forward, but the agency is without political leadership at the top to help the staff manage that."
Mr. Littlefield agreed with Ms. Luke. "It's hard to imagine anything big coming out of NHTSA until there's an administrator," he said.
Still, there are negotiations going on among various stakeholders that could mean some really great strides in improving tire registration rates, according to Mr. Littlefield.
"As an industry, we have an opportunity to do something that will make a lot of sense," he said. "I think we can make this a win-win for manufacturers, dealers and motorists."