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Do consumers care about rolling resistance?

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With regular unleaded gasoline hovering around $4 per gallon, local TV stations are airing ways for consumers to get better fuel mileage, including maintaining proper air pressure in their tires.

Newspapers are getting in on the act, too. USA Today ran a story for Memorial Day that focused on new tires that offer low rolling resistance. The article touted the fuel saving benefits of these products. But do tire buyers care about rolling resistance?

This past December, before the latest rise in gas prices, moderntiredealer.com's monthly Web poll asked tire dealers, "Do your retail customers care about low rolling resistance?" Only 14% of respondents said "Yes." Fifty eight percent of respondents said "No," while 28% said, "Yes, but it doesn't trump low price."

Fast forward to this month's Web poll. The same question was asked. This time around, 59% of respondents said "No." Meanwhile, a slightly higher percentage (16%) said "Yes," and 25% replied, "Yes, but it doesn't trump low price."

Responding to the on-line version of the USA Today article, a number of consumers made interesting -- and in some cases, humorous --comments about low rolling resistance tires.

One reader remarked, "We landed on the moon... seems we could build an efficient tire!"

Another said, "It seems to me if you made these tires square, you couldn't get anywhere -- thus saving untold amounts of gas!" followed by "You engineers can take over from here!"

"Low resistance tires? What happens when you put on your brakes?" asked another.

Meanwhile, tire manufacturers continue to make significant investments in bids to boost the fuel efficiency of their consumer tires. For example, earlier this year, Michelin North America Inc. announced it's investing nearly $7 million into resarch and development efforts to improve fuel economy by reducing rolling resistance.

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