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TIA's Littlefield wants to educate consumers about tires. What do you think?

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The federal government is mandating that a program to educate consumers on the value and proper care of tires be created. Roy Littlefield, executive vice president of the Tire Industry Association (TIA), feels strongly that TIA should oversee the development and implementation of that program.

We want to know what you think after you read what he has to say.

What follows is an open letter written by Littlefield to the industry. He titled it,  "It's time to speak with one voice," and what follows are his thoughts on the program -- word for word, as they appear in the letter.

"Let me ask you a question: Would you want your customers being educated about tires by trial lawyers? How about by so-called "safety experts" (I use the quotes here because we all know they are really not as concerned with true safety as they are with feathering their own nests, or the nests of their "birds of a feather," the trial lawyers)? Would public watchdog groups be more to your liking? Or, how about environmental extremists? Better yet, how about if the government did it?

"I don't think I'm going out on a limb here by assuming that the answers to these questions would be a resounding "No!" But, that's essentially what could happen if we don't come together as an industry and unite NOW. Allow me to explain why.

"Recognizing the need for a national program to educate consumers on the value and proper care of tires but concerned about who would pay for it, the Rubber Manufacturers Association (RMA) lobbied for language in the recent National Energy Bill calling for the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) to oversee the development and implementation of an educational program.

"This type of effective, large-scale consumer education effort has been a top goal for our current President Dan Beach, and for Past Presidents Larry Morgan, Tom Raben, Dick Gust, Bob Malerba, Paul Hyatt and Peggy Fisher. They have known all along that such an undertaking would be very costly; over the years, TIA has tried to work with the industry -- with little success -- to establish funding mechanisms.

"But, finally, the Energy Bill passed Congress, and President Bush signed it into law. However, there was nothing in the language as to who would run the program, nor was there anything in the language about spending limits. Thus, as an industry, we allowed Congress to pass a law allowing a federal agency to develop a program to educate consumers about us without any spending limits! Will this turn out to be a much-needed and important public education campaign, or is this a recipe for disaster?

"I believe that it could go either way, and time is of the essence.

"The first decision NHTSA must make is to determine whether this campaign should be run by the government or whether it should be run by an industry group (like TIA) with NHTSA oversight.

"I think that I speak for many in the industry (and, hopefully you, as well) when I say that I am just not comfortable with Washington bureaucrats educating consumers about our industry.

"So, it is absolutely imperative that we, as an industry, must unite immediately and convince NHTSA to allow a legitimate, trustworthy, and, above all else, knowledgeable tire industry group to develop and administer this effort.

"If NHTSA should decide that this program should not be run by the government, this process will then be opened up to the public. I suspect that many nefarious industry and "consumer" groups will be lined up to run the campaign. And, there are many other groups who could cause public, legal and political nightmares for the tire industry for a very long time.

"It is VERY possible that trial lawyers, public safety groups, or environmental organizations will attempt to have this campaign outsourced to them. It is therefore critical that the various facets of the tire industry come together and petition NHTSA to ensure that if this effort is outsourced, that it is outsourced to the only organization that can effectively work with the tire manufacturers, RMA and TRIB. And, that organization is TIA.

"While you might (understandably) accuse me of personal bias, let me give you a few examples of what would happen if NHTSA outsourced the program to TIA. And then, let me give a few examples of what could happen if this program was put in the wrong hands. After you look at the possibilities, I am convinced that you will agree that outsourcing the program to TIA makes sense.

"If we are entrusted with this program, TIA would certainly inform consumers that tires are a technological marvel that have to be properly maintained. We would build on the current NHTSA safety program and the RMA "Be Tire Smart -- Play Your Part" campaign, addressing such issues as tire maintenance, tire rotation and proper tire inflation.

"We would instruct consumers on the importance of inspecting tires and on the safety value of periodic motor vehicle inspections, why programs should be strengthened in states that currently have inspection programs and why states that do not have programs should have programs. We could even develop a model bill with reasonable, yet thorough inspection procedures, and we could testify in state legislatures nationwide.

"I was part of the effort in the early 1980s to move from a mandatory to a voluntary tire registration program. At the time, tire dealers were being fined up to $10,000 per tire for failure to register new tires sold. The purpose of the registration system is to notify customers in the case of a recall. If TIA runs this education program, we will stress to consumers the need for them to register their tires. Another group could put pressure on lawmakers to go back to a mandatory system with heavy fines.

"And, we would emphasize to consumers the need to have their tires cared for by reliable, well-trained, tire technicians. For liability and safety concerns, a trained tech is important.

"Let me now describe you a few examples of what could happen if this training campaign ended up in less knowledgeable hands . . .

"We have all seen the unfair exposes and news stories on tire aging. What if we saw a series of government-financed ads on the fact that tires are not safe after a certain period of time? Think of the confusion we would have if 10 states enacted a six-year lifespan, and 10 other states prohibited use after 10 years? Think of the inventory nightmare!

"What if we saw a series of government-sponsored ads on used tires? If sensationalized, we could end up with legislation on Capitol Hill and in state legislatures that outright bans the sale of used tires. And, how do you define a used tire? Is a tire that is taken off the vehicle and repaired considered a used tire? Do you think that's how untrained, unknowledgeable legislators would define it?

"What would any type of tire aging or used tire legislation do to the retread industry? Lawmakers could overnight challenge a positive economic and environmentally friendly industry with some ill-conceived legislation.

"When you have a knee-jerk reaction to consumer ads, would consumers and legislators respond to issues of handling characteristics, wheel-offs, tire matching (mud and snow versus all-season, for example) or rolling resistance (both the care of rolling resistance versus safety, and the problem of marketing tires with different rolling resistance) in a thoughtful, reasoned and responsible manner?

"I have been involved with the tire industry and TIA since 1979, and I believe that if this program is not administered correctly, it could result in legislation and regulation on the tire industry equal to or greater than the TREAD Act. If there was ever a time for every facet of this industry to come together, it is now. I believe that the best organization to run this federally-mandated and federally-funded consumer educational program is TIA. The stakes are too high to go in any other direction.

"It is crucial for the industry to come together and speak in one voice NOW. The failure to move forward together at this time could put this industry on the defensive for years to come."

So, what do you think? Do you agree or disagree with Littlefield? Please post a comment below and let us know!

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