Dale Amy
October 7, 2010

Congress passed a law in 1973 directing the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to set CAFE standards, making these standards a tool exclusively wielded by the federal government. The average CAFE rating will be 35.5 mpg in 2016 based on a combined 39 mpg rating for passenger cars and 30 mpg for light trucks. The automakers supportted and participated in formulating the rules, since they provide a reasonable national approach to regulating CO2 emissions rather than a patchwork of state rules. Automakers will likely rely on more fuel-efficient tires, turbochargers, low-friction lubricants, six-speed automatic transmissions, and similar technological means to achieve the standards.

While the new CAFE and CO2 standards for 2016 are reasonable, the federal government announced plans to put in place stronger rules for 2017 and beyond. In May, the EPA was directed to also reduce emissions of conven-tional pollutants, such as nitrogen oxides. Drastically increased CAFE regulations potentially limit consumer choice if manufacturers are forced to make smaller, less-powerful and less-useful cars and light duty vehicles in order to meet government fuel economy demands. Market-based solutions that allow the consumer to participate in and respond to national energy policies must be employed.

Tire Fuel Efficiency
A lot rides on your tires. That will soon include greenhouse gases, namely carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions. Both California and the federal government are pursuing regulations to rate replacement tires for "fuel efficiency" in an effort to influence consumer choice. In theory, if a tire is more fuel-efficient, less gas is burned and therefore less CO2 is emitted into the atmosphere.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) is drafting a "consumer information system" to rate the fuel economy, safety, and durability characteristics of most replacement tires. NHTSA has established test procedures to be used by tire manufacturers in determining tire ratings, but is still considering options on how to convey the information to consumers at the point of sale and on the Internet. Companies that only produce 15,000 units or less in a tire line (or 35,000 tires in total brand-name production)-mostly tires for classic and antique vehicles or off-highway vehicles-are exempt, since fuel efficiency for these types is not a primary consumer concern. Tire manufacturers are considering new rubber compounds, tire designs, and other methods to boost efficiency without negatively impacting traction and strength.

The premise for the new program is to allow consumers to compare ratings for different replacement tires and determine the effect of tire choices on fuel economy, or the potential tradeoffs between tire fuel efficiency (rolling resistance), safety (wet traction), and durability (treadwear life).

When it comes to consumer information, the big question is whether the focus of attention is misplaced? Will consumers be dissuaded from buying tires that may have improved performance, handling, or appearance features, based solely on a rolling resistance rating? In addition, the program may easily distract consumers from focusing on more important safety issues such as tire inflation and overloading of vehicles. On that topic, the most inefficient tires are the ones that are under-inflated. A motorist can easily lose 3 or 4 percent in gas mileage when tires are under-inflated. Moreover, a tire that is not properly inflated compromises handling and braking.