Green Push Hits Tire Makers
Threat of Regulation Has Industry
Scrambling to Block, Modify Proposals
By STEPHEN POWER
December 11, 2007; Page A18
A new industry is coming under pressure as governments look for ways
to make cars use less carbon-belching fuel: tire makers.
The European Union is expected to propose regulations that would set
limits on tire rolling resistance, or the force a tire must overcome
to move a vehicle. In California, legislators have passed a law
calling for similar rules. In Washington, Congress is considering
legislation that would create a consumer-information program on tire
KICKING THE TIRES
• Beyond Cars: Regulators in the EU and U.S. are considering moves to
make tires more energy efficient.
• Defraying Pressure: The move comes as car makers complain they bear
the brunt of costly fuel-efficiency efforts.
• Differing Responses: The industry opposes the toughest measures but
supports others that give them an advantage over lower-cost tire
The threat of new regulations has prompted a rush by established tire
makers to block the most rigorous proposals. In Europe, tire makers
are moving to shape the regulations in ways that would give them an
advantage against less technologically advanced rivals.
The focus on tires reflects a broader effort by governments to shift
some of the burden of fuel-economy rules away from auto makers, which
say job cuts and costly design changes will result from the most
ambitious proposals to cut vehicle emissions. This year, the EU eased
its proposal for cutting average emissions of carbon dioxide, which
contributes to global warming, from new cars in Europe to 18% over
five years from the 25% it had proposed earlier.
To make up the difference, the European Commission plans to go beyond
more-efficient engines. Among the body's new proposals: increased use
of biofuels, more efficient air-conditioning systems in vehicles, and
energy-efficiency standards for tires.
In theory, boosting a tire's energy efficiency is relatively easy and
inexpensive. As much as 20% of the energy needed to operate a car is
tire-related, according to some industry estimates. The lower a tire's
rolling resistance, the less energy the car consumes.
A study last year by the National Academy of Sciences in the U.S.
estimated that as many as two billion gallons of gasoline and diesel
fuel could be saved each year in the U.S. by reducing the average
rolling resistance of automobile tires by 10%. That would be
equivalent to taking four million cars and light trucks off the road.
In Europe, adding low-rolling-resistance tires to cars drives up their
production costs by about €20 to €30, or nearly $30 to $45, per
vehicle, based on estimates by Credit Suisse Group.
For manufacturers, an easy way to cut a tire's rolling resistance is
to reduce the thickness of its tread. The problem, some industry
officials said, is that reducing a tire's rolling resistance too much
can weaken its traction or shorten the tire's life span.
Germany's Continental AG said its tests indicate that tires designed
primarily with low-rolling resistance in mind tend to have longer
stopping distances on wet surfaces. The National Academy of Sciences
study, however, reported that the safety consequences of reducing tire
rolling resistance "are probably undetectable," and that a 10%
reduction is "feasible and attainable within a decade" through new
tire technologies and improved designs.
This year, the U.S. Senate considered a proposal to require all
passenger-automobile tires to meet low-rolling-resistance standards.
The tire industry warned it would have to make tires that wear out
more quickly, piling up more used tires in scrap yards.
The industry coalesced around a proposal to create a national system
for rating tires on energy efficiency, leaving it up to consumers and
car companies to decide which tires to buy. That is part of broader
legislation being considered by Congress that would also raise
automobile fuel-economy standards.
"Congressional leaders were telling us that there's a lot of concern
about fuel use and that you guys need to start saying something other
than 'no' to doing something," said Dan Zielinski, a spokesman for the
Washington-based Rubber Manufacturers Association.
Mr. Zielinski's group had less success dissuading California
legislators from passing a law that requires state regulators to set
energy-efficiency standards for tires. Before imposing new standards,
however, state regulators are required under the law to show they
won't "adversely affect" tire safety or California's effort to manage
scrap tires or tire life span. Although California's law raises the
prospect of a de-facto national standard, industry officials are
skeptical the state will ever be able to implement such standards.
"We believe the thresholds they need to overcome are not likely to be
surmountable," Mr. Zielinski said. A spokeswoman for the California
Energy Commission said the agency is "confident that we can work with
the tire industry to establish tire efficiency standards that meet our
In Europe, tire makers have concluded new regulations are inevitable.
Unlike the U.S., the EU is party to the Kyoto Protocol, the
international treaty that sets mandatory targets for cutting global
Rather than try to block new EU standards, Western and Japanese tire
makers are pressing regulators not only to set standards for rolling
resistance, but also to establish new requirements for braking
performance and to mandate consumer-friendly labels that would grade
tires on energy efficiency and how well they perform on wet or
By taking on mandates, the industry's more established players, such
as Continental and Japan's Bridgestone Corp., could gain an edge
against tire makers from India and China, which tend to spend less on
research and development, industry analysts said.
France's Michelin SA is touting the fuel-saving potential of its
"green tires." The company recently started a global ad campaign for
its most energy-efficient tires.
This year, Michelin got a major boost when French car maker PSA
Peugeot-Citroen SA adopted its fourth-generation "Energy Saver" tire
for the new Peugeot 308 hatchback. Michelin officials say the tires
will cut the car's carbon dioxide emissions by four grams per
kilometer, equal to a reduction of about one metric ton of carbon
dioxide during the life of the vehicle. The tire's braking distance on
wet roads also is about 10 feet shorter than the previous-generation
tire. Michelin charges auto makers about 10% more for the tire than it
does for a conventional tire, though specific price levels depend on
the volume of the car maker's order, a Michelin spokesman said. Price
levels for the replacement market haven't been announced yet.
"We know how to make a tire which can brake short and at the same time
is fuel efficient," said Thierry Coudurier, president of Michelin's
passenger-car and light-truck tire division. "We don't think all of
our competitors are able to do that."
I would imagine with snow tires, just like they aren't required to have the same wear ratings, or speed ratings, they would be in a different class, of course then you run in to the problem that we have with "SUV's" they are for utility so mpg standards are looser, and they are a sport vehicle so crash test standards are looser, but lower rolling resistance tires make your car feel less slugish, so why shouldn't people love them?
Rubber is the contact patch with the pavement. How it works is based on lots of things: rubber compound, construction materials, etc.
Additionally, a tire has an operating temperature. One of the things that happens to a tire when the rubber is worn away is that the tire cannot hold in heat so that it generates traction. No traction, well, that's a safety issue.
Things that are mandated by governments scare me. If it doesn't work in the market place, how is government mandation of something going to make it happen and happen in away that doesn't affect the overall economy of everything.
It will certainly increase tire prices to consumers. That of course will impact those that have less income that those that have more.
Rolling resitance data just needs to be available to consumers. Let the consumer make the choice. Adopting a new idea too quickly can have dangerous consequences. We don't have a lot of time to cure the ails of the earth, but we still need to weigh our options before moving forward with new ideas, laws, and regulations.
Information is power. The more standardized information that consumers have access to, the better choices that they (the EDUCATED consumer) will be able to make. Two great candidates..? Rolling resistance and (reliable) tire-wear data.
Consumer demands for safety have pushed the market. Small vehicles are coming with safety equipment far above the level required by the US DOT. The EPA has killed opportunities for small diesels in the US. CAFE standards are not logical.
As for revolutionary, I really can wish. There has been change, but I would be hard pressed to say anything above that. The format hasn't changed.
I think it's a good thing that subjects like low rolling resistance tires weave their way through the ranks. People need to hear more that these even exist and before too long you will actually see the term 'low rolling resistance' in ads from companies like Tirediscounter and the like. I for one think it's a good thing.
Having worked in a government regulatory agency, I can tell you one thing flat out: They have nobody on staff competent to make such decisions. They outsource such work to activist organizations and they make stuff up.
I say develop rating for parameters such as rolling resistance, braking, traction and wear and the people will make their own decisions. Much better than having regulatory blockheads choose for me.
2000 Ford F-350 Super Cab Pickup
4x2, 6 speed manual
Regeared to 3.08:1
4 inch suspension slam
Aero mods: "Fastback" fairing and rugged air dam and side skirts
Stock MPG: 19
Summer MPG: 27.0
Winter MPG: 24
I can't argue with that Big Dave. I think it would be more meaningful for them to mandate providing rolling resistance information and it's effect on FE to consumers rahter than to simply force the issue onto people. An EnergyStar rating for tires so to speak.