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Bitter battle?

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Bitter battle?

In a nutshell, the RMA wants tire dealers to be responsible for registering tires purchased at their shops. TIA wants the consumer to be ultimately responsible.

This is a real point of contention between the two organizations. Most of it is philosophical, as the manufacturers and dealers square off on opposite sides of the issue. Some of it is also political and, dare I say, personal; communication between the organizations prior to last December’s Passenger Vehicle Tire Safety Symposium in Washington, D.C., evidently left something to be desired.

In her testimony during the symposium’s panel discussion on tire registration and recalls, Tracey Norberg, RMA (Rubber Manufacturers Association) senior vice president of regulatory affairs and general counsel, said the present system, which, at the very least, calls for each tire retailer to put the tire identification number on a registration card and place it in the customer’s car, isn’t working because the registration rates are too low. She places it at about 40% industry-wide.

“It is not particularly burdensome on the dealer. The manufacturers never see the consumer. They do not have the opportunity to directly register the tires themselves.”

According to Kevin Rohlwing, TIA (Tire Industry Association) senior vice president of training, the low registration rates are more reflective of consumer apathy than the lack of compliance on the part of independent tire dealers. During his presentation, he called for a collective effort to educate consumers on the importance of registering tires, something he said the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, RMA and tire manufacturers had made little or no effort to do.

Rohlwing also drew comparisons to NHTSA’s system for registering child restraints, which doesn’t require the retailer to play any role nor bear any responsibilities with regard to the process. He questioned why tire retailers are treated differently and vehicle manufacturers are allowed to shift the burden onto the backs of small businesses.

“We are incredibly disappointed that RMA supports a legislative solution to the problem of low tire registration rates rather than educational,” said Roy Littlefield, TIA’s executive vice president, following the symposium. “TIA has been working with RMA on a number of legislative issues like tire repair and used tires over the past few years, but there have been no discussions related to mandatory tire registration.

“We had talked about working together to educate and improve voluntary numbers, so it was a total shock to hear that they are proposing legislation over education.”

If this political intrigue sounds familiar to some of you longtime tire dealers, it should. In the 1970s, tire registration was mandatory. TIA’s predecessor, the National Tire Dealers and Retreaders Association (NTDRA), fought to make it voluntary and won, much to the chagrin of the RMA.

Ironically, both the NTDRA and RMA were against a “trigger mechanism” in the bill, which called for a review of the law after two years. If the Secretary of Transportation determined it wasn’t working, registration would become mandatory again, “with any cost to the dealer or distributor borne by the manufacturer.” The NTDRA was against having all its efforts undermined after the fact. The RMA was against being responsible for the cost.

Prior to the original bill’s passing, Modern Tire Dealer reported that “pass or fail, the bill may leave a sour aftertaste in its wake as charges and counter charges of below-the-belt legislative and lobbying tactics have flown between the NTDRA, the RMA and their members.”

The current war of words between the RMA and TIA hopefully will not damage their relationship, which has often been contentious over the years. Over the last two years, they have worked well together.

“We are very encouraged by our increasingly positive working relationship with RMA,” said Littlefield in 2013. “Whether it is working together on legislative issues on the federal or state levels, sharing information, or speaking out on industry issues in the media, our industry is speaking with a united voice, and we are making a difference.”

Do we need to take the responsibility away from the consumer? Do we need another layer of bureaucracy to oversee and perhaps enforce mandatory registration? Perhaps getting down to the heart of the matter, who is going to pay for any changes to the current system?

For now, the RMA and TIA, in the spirit of cooperation, should get together to answer these questions. No emailing allowed.

As the late Joan Rivers used to say, “Can we talk?” She didn’t say, “Can we text?”   ■

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