The National Highway Traffic Safety administration suspended a program yesterday that requires tire manufacturers to test their products and to assign tread-wear ratings as a guide to consumers.
NHTSA Administrator Raymond A. Peck said the action was taken "to avoid dissemination of potentially misleading information on the expected tread life of passenger car tires."
But Robert H. Horning, marketing vice president of Uniroyal Tire Division of Uniroyal Inc., disagreed sharply with that view. "The consumer is being shortchanged by the agency's suspension of treadwear ratings. NHTSA's action renders as virtually useless the entire" federal system of grading tires, he said.
Uniroyal frequently used the government's tread-wear rating reports in its advertising campaigns. The company stands alone among its industrial peers in its support.
Other manufacturers of passenger-car tires have argued during the three-year life of NHTSA's tire-rating system that it was inadequate and often injurious to sales of their products. Peck, in announcing the agency's action yesterday, seemed to agree with that view.
"There is such variability in tread-wear test results that meaningful grade assignment simply cannot be assured. We just cannot tell whether a higher graded tire will wear better than a lower graded tire," Peck said.
Tread-wear grades have been assigned by manufacturers based on road tests over specific courses.
NHTSA also tests tires for traction, measuring their ability to stop on wet surfaces, and for heat resistance, measuring their ability to dissipate heat. Peck said the suspension of tread-wear ratings does not affect federal requirements for auto tire traction and temperature resistance.
NHTSA had proposed to suspend its tread-wear grading requirements last June, but ran into a wall of criticism from consumer groups and others who argued that the proposal signaled another Reagan administration drive to reduce the effectiveness of regulatory agencies.
But Peck denied that charge, saying the tread-wear rating system was too misleading to justify its estimated $10 million annual cost to manufacturers.