California Moves Closer to Tire Fuel Efficiency Mandate

Feb. 14, 2023

In the September 2021 issue of MTD, I wrote about the California Energy Commission’s (CEC) plan to establish a fuel efficiency standard and rating system for replacement passenger and light truck tires.

Under the potential mandate, replacement consumer tires sold in the state would be required to match or exceed the rolling resistance levels of original equipment tires.

At the time, a representative from the CEC told me that the commission was “gathering data on all passenger vehicles and light trucks operating in California, including their tire make, model, size and trim.”

He went on to say the CEC was in the process of “examining tire efficiency test data conducted over time; collecting data on OE tires for new passenger vehicles and light trucks; and exploring methods to present and display tire data to consumers to enhance purchase decisions.”

The CEC representative also told me that the above process “can typically take one year to complete from the informal start date.”

Nearly 18 months after my editorial was published — and having not heard anything on the topic since — I decided to check in with the organization for an update.

A spokesperson from the CEC responded that the commission “has continued to research energy efficiency of replacement tires and has routinely met with industry and governmental entities, including the Tire Industry Association.

“The goal remains to establish a tire efficiency rating system and minimum performance tire efficiency standard for replacement tires sold in the state of California.

“The CEC plans to additionally develop a tire information program to educate consumers about tire efficiency at the point of sale.”

The commission “has used data from the California Department of Motor Vehicles and the California Air Resources Board to determine other beneficial impacts of increasing replacement tire efficiency, which includes reduced pollution and improved public health.”

The CEC has not set a hard deadline for establishing its fuel efficiency mandate,”but is eager to move quickly to save drivers money and reduce harmful air pollution in our communities.”

All of that sounds noble, well and good. But I maintain that these advancements should not come at the expense of California’s independent tire dealers and their customers.

I still believe that a mandate could not only limit consumer choice, but also limit a dealer’s ability to sell what he or she wants — based on the customer’s budget and preference.

Not all customers will be able to afford higher-priced tires that can meet or exceed whatever rolling resistance target the CEC will require.

Not all tire manufacturers have the ability to hit stringent fuel efficiency targets.

And not all dealers will want to alter their product screens to meet new mandates — nor do I believe they should be forced to do so.

Another thing to keep in mind is tire fuel efficiency regulations that start in California have a way of extending beyond the state’s borders. I can’t think of a better example than the California Environmental Protection Agency’s nearly 20-year-old SmartWay program, which established fuel efficiency standards for commercial truck tires operating inside California.

SmartWay was “California-only” at first. But the program had far-reaching impact as truck tire manufacturers reconfigured tread designs and compounds to meet its targets.

The kicker? Only a handful of tiremakers at the time had the wherewithal to hit the magic SmartWay number.

Fast forward to today. Do I think we’ll see a passenger and light truck tire fuel efficiency mandate tomorrow or next week? No.

While there’s still time to help educate the CEC about the impact of a potential mandate on your business — or your fellow tire dealers’ businesses — you should seize the opportunity. You can submit your comments and thoughts via the CEC’s website.

The commission wants to hear from our industry.

That includes you.

Let’s do what we can to protect your freedom to sell what you want, while preserving your customers’ freedom to pick the best product that fits their situation.

About the Author

Mike Manges | Editor

Mike Manges is Modern Tire Dealer’s editor. A 25-year tire industry veteran, he is a three-time International Automotive Media Association award winner and holds a Gold Award from the Association of Automotive Publication Editors. Mike has traveled the world in pursuit of stories that will help independent tire dealers move their businesses forward. Before rejoining MTD in September 2019, he held corporate communications positions at two Fortune 500 companies and served as MTD’s senior editor from 2000 to 2010.