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New tire fuel efficiency ratings proposed by Transportation Department

November 15, 2010

The U.S. Department of Transportation has proposed a new "consumer-friendly" replacement tire label which for the first time would include information about the tire’s impact on fuel economy and carbon dioxide emissions. Tires with lower rolling resistance (and proper inflation pressures) can contribute to better fuel economy.

This technical advantage has been opposed consistently by automaker designers who favor larger, heavier tires with lower aspect ratios, which increase a tire’s rolling resistance.

"Today’s proposal takes the guess work out of buying the best tires for your vehicle," said U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood. "Our proposal would let consumers look at a single label and compare a tire’s overall performance as it relates to fuel economy, safety and durability."

The National Highway Traffice Safety Administration already offers tire safety information on the Web. NHTSA officials said they hope the proposed rule will increase fuel economy, safety, and tire durability.

"At the very least," said LaHood, "(it) should enable consumers to make more informed decisions about these variables."

In addition to the new fuel efficiency ratings, the NHTSA proposal would provide consumers with two vital tire performance indicators: wet weather traction and tread wear. All three ratings would be prominently displayed on a removable label attached to the replacement tire at the point of sale.

The three-tiered ratings also would appear on, to help consumers in compare ratings as they shop for new tires.

LaHood noted that, as people load their vehicles for the summer driving season, "please remember that the best tires in the world will not keep drivers and passengers safe if they are underinflated or if vehicles are overloaded."

The Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007 included a requirement that NHTSA develop a national tire fuel efficiency consumer information program to educate consumers about the effect of tires on automobile fuel efficiency, safety, and durability.

In the proposed rule, the NHTSA writes: "Consumers currently have little, if any, convenient way of determining how tire choices can affect vehicle fuel economy. The collective effects of the choices consumers make when they buy tires are matters of public interest. The 240 million passenger cars and light trucks in the United States consume about 135 billion gallons of motor fuel annually."

The NHTSA estimates — assuming that between 2 percent and 10 percent of targeted tires are improved and that the average reduction in rolling resistance among improved tires is from 5 percent to 10 percent — annual savings of 7.9 million to 78 million gallons of fuel, and emissions reduction of 76,000 to 757,000 metric tons of CO2 annually.

The values of the fuel savings at a 3 percent discount rate are from $22 million to $220 million, and from $20 million to $203 million at a 7 percent discount rate.