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Voting nears on California bill calling for fuel-efficient tires

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Discussions on the final version of California AB 844, a bill designed to improve fuel economy in the state by setting rolling resistance standards for replacement tires, are ongoing, with a vote to follow.

According to Becky MacDicken, director of government affairs for the Tire Industry Association (TIA), the bill "would limit the types of replacement tires available for sale in California and hurt consumers, tire dealers, and the environment." Specifically, it mandates that replacement tires for passenger cars and light trucks be as energy efficient as tires sold as original equipment on these vehicles.

TIA has the following problems with the bill, introduced by Assemblymember Joe Nation (D-San Rafael):

* AB 844 would create a government bureaucracy that regulates and limits consumers' tire choices.

* California dealers would be at a competitive disadvantage because the bill would effectively limit the range of tires sold in California. Out-of-state tire dealers and Internet vendors would benefit from AB 844.

* Typically, tires that meet the requirements of the bill would not last as long as other tires. Therefore, more tires would find their way into the scrap tire waste stream. If AB 844 is passed, Californians may generate millions of additional scrap tires a year.

In a letter to California Assemblymen, TIA and the Specialty Equipment Market Association (SEMA) recommended that the bill be rejected "since the replacement tire efficiency program conflicts with federal law, is anti-consumer and anti-small business, and would require a substantial appropriation in a time of record budget shortfalls."

In addition, the bill would impose "substantial costs on tire manufacturers to redesign all replacement tires for improved rolling resistance, then redesign tire treads and compounds to overcome safety and performance inadequacies associated with redesigning tires solely for upgrading rolling resistance."

Based on its Transportation Recall Enhancement, Accountability, and Documentation (TREAD) Act powers and responsibilities, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration is in the process of updating its tire standards to address endurance and resistance issues.

NHTSA issued a proposed rule on March 5, 2002, and is expected to issue a final rule in the near future; the rule may pre-empt California’s intent to require certain fuel-efficient tires.

NHTSA rules also may pre-empt California’s intent to create additional tire labeling and consumer information rules, say the organizations. NHTSA issued final labeling and consumer information rules on November 18, 2002.

TIA and SEMA are afraid the California bill may dissuade consumers from buying tires that may have improved performance, handling or appearance features, based solely on a rolling resistance rating. It also may drive consumers to purchase only vehicle manufacturer recommended tires "because the program exempts OEM-selected tires and unfairly implies that they are superior to aftermarket products."

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