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Car, Tire Makers Boost Opposition to New Standards

Safety: Companies say strict federal guidelines would be too costly and could lead to a decrease in fuel economy.

June 06, 2002|From Reuters

Auto and tire makers stepped up their opposition to strict new federal standards for tire safety on Wednesday, saying the rules would force changes in about 45% of all tires sold and cost tire makers at least $1.5 billion.

The outcry came in response to proposals by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration for tire testing, spurred by the Firestone tire crisis and a new federal law.

The agency said that although about one-third of the 287 million tires sold in the United States every year might have to be redesigned, the new rules could save 27 lives and prevent 667 injuries a year from crashes caused by blowouts or other tire failures.

It also estimated the standards would cost the tire industry $282 million annually, or about $7.2 million for each life saved.

But the Rubber Manufacturers Assn., the lobbying group representing 120 companies including all major domestic tire makers, said NHTSA's estimates are "grossly inaccurate."

It said complying with the rules would cost $1.5 billion in the first year and about $400 million a year after that.

The association also estimated that up to 42% of passenger car tires and up to 54% of truck tires would fail the tests.

And it said only about one in every 1 million tires are cited as the cause of an accident, and most of those are failures from punctures or road hazards.

"It is obvious there is no relationship between the failure rates to NHTSA's proposed new test standard and to the actual real-world tire safety performance," the association said in a filing.

In its response to the proposals, General Motors Corp. said in a separate statement on Wednesday that the agency's cost estimates don't account for the changes auto makers would have to make to accommodate the rules.

GM, the world's largest auto maker, estimated about 22% of its cars and 6% of its trucks would not meet the new standards.

To meet the standards, GM said it would have to test the new tires, change calibrations for anti-lock brakes and other complex electronic systems and in some cases might have to redesign vehicles.

It also said the new tires would lead to a "dramatic" decrease in fuel economy, because their rolling resistance would increase.

"There is no safety justification for the tire selection amendments ... and no objective evidence that they will yield any safety benefit," GM said.

GM and the tire makers said that regardless of what rules NHTSA finally proposes, they should be delayed for several years to give companies time to meet the tests.

GM also suggested that NHTSA consider more modest proposals, such as requiring service stations to have accurate tire gauges and working air pumps.

NHTSA had been scheduled to issue its new rules by June 1, but extended the time for comments to Wednesday and has yet to set a new date for the rules.

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