When we discuss labelling worldwide, we have to start with the European labelling scheme. Currently, all schemes involving tire labels for consumers are based on the EU model. With one exception: the United States. However, many doubt that the US scheme will ever see the light of day.
The EU produced legislation to support tire labelling in 2009. The label became mandatory in November 2012.
In the interim, Both Japan and Korea launched voluntary schemes, largely based on the EU proposals. The Korean scheme became mandatory in November 2012, and was, technically the first mandatory system in the world, followed a few hours later by the EU scheme.
By 2015, Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Brazil had all introduced mandatory schemes based on the EU label. China, India, New Zealand and some Gulf countries had announced similar or voluntary schemes while the EEA (Russia and former USSR countries) also had introduced limits on tire performance
By the end of 2018, The list of countries with mandatory labelling schemes in place had extended to most of the Gulf region, including Iran, Saudi, UAE, Yemen, Oman, Kuwait, Israel; China had implemented a voluntary scheme, while Malaysia, Thailand and Colombia also brought in schemes based on the EU label. New Zealand had scrapped its planned adoption of tire labels in favour of recommending that drivers check tire pressure regularly.
Current EU regulations
The EU regulation from 2012 is now well-established through the tire industry. It measures three parameters: Wet grip, Fuel economy, Noise. This compares with over 50 parameters measured by tire makers. These include characteristics such as:
- Rolling resistance
- Wet grip (Longitudinal)
- Pass-by noise
- Tread wear
- Internal noise
- Wet grip (Lateral)
- Dry grip (Lateral)
- Dry grip (Longitudinal)
- Wet handling
- Dry handling
- Aquaplane (Lateral)
- Aquaplane (Longitudinal)
- Snow grip
- Snow handling
- Ice traction
- Ice handling
- Cost of materials
- Cost of manufacture
- Electrical conductivity
- Contact patch area
- Contact patch deformation
- Deformation at high speed
- Accuracy of cornering
- Load capacity
- Load shifting
- Lane change stability
- Repeatability of lap times
Clearly, it would be impractical to compare all of the above parameters.
Initially, the legislators wanted a label with one single parameter: fuel economy. The tire industry rejected this, saying that fuel economy and grip are closely inter-connected with tire life. The industry felt that a label highlighting fuel economy risked driving tire makers to sacrifice wet grip in order to get the best possible label rating for fuel economy. As a result, wet grip was added.
As the regulation was passing through parliament, the politicians in the Netherlands wanted to reduce tire noise on their urban motorways, and added the extra factor identifying noise from the tire when it interacts with a standard ISO surface. Much of the industry feels this parameter is irrelevant, as the noise depends very much on the type of road surface that the tire rolls on. While a standard ISO surface offers a means to compare one tire with another, the information from that comparison is not especially useful when the tires roll on concrete, for example.
Some observers wanted to add a measure for tire wear, or lifetime. It was considered that a test for this would be too expensive and give insufficient repeatability.
There is one established test for tire wear and that is the Uniform Tire Quality Grade Standards (UTQG) system in the United States.
The challenge for the industry is that all tests have to be carried out on a single test track in West Texas and the test covers just 7200 miles (11,500 km), when a typical wear life in North America might be 50,000 miles
UTQG Tread-wear grades are based on actual road use, in which the test tire is run in a vehicle convoy along with standardised course monitoring tires. The vehicle repeatedly runs a prescribed 400-mile test loop in West Texas for a total of 7200 miles.
The vehicle can have its alignment set, air pressure checked and tires rotated every 800 miles. Wear on the test tires and the monitoring tires are measured during and after the test.
The tire manufacturers then assign a tread-wear grade based on the observed wear rates. A grade of 100 would indicate that the tire tread would last as long as the test tire, 200 would indicate the tread would last twice as long, etc.
Similarly, some test organisations in Europe, such as ADAC, carry out similar wear tests, by driving a convoy of cars fitted with different tires around a defined circuit.
ADAC’s test route near Munich in Germany comprises 40% motorway and 60% country roads. Each vehicle is tested over a 12,000 km distance and the tread depth measured each 2500 km. The tests are repeated several times. This is seen as expensive and time-consuming and – tire makers argued– would delay the introduction of better-performing tires.
Nevertheless, the total package passed through the European Parliament on 25 November 2009. The full text can be downloaded from the EC website: https://eur-lex.europa.eu/legal-content/EN/ALL/?uri=celex%3A32009R1222 . It included limits and tests for the three specific parameters noted above.
Since that time, a number of the lower categories (mostly the G-ratings) have been deleted from the regulations, making the requirements slightly more strict.
On 17 May 2018, the European Commission published a legislative proposal to revise the European Tire Label, which is currently undergoing the co-legislators assessment and adoption.
There are good things and bad things about this proposal.
- There are new categories to assess ice grip and winter performance. The label formally brings the 3-peak mountain snowflake system within the EU tire labelling rules, and also adds a new test and new symbol for ice grip.
- A number of parameters could be assess by multiple different test procedures, and those are all harmonised in the proposals.
- More vigorous market surveillance to ensure compliance and greater efforts to make the public aware of the label and the reasons it has been put in place.
- The proposals include the possibility of a new test to measure tire wear rates. The industry sees this as a costly exercise with limited benefits. We see it as a positive that will probably be costly, but will help consumers decide wither to buy a short-lived tire or a longer-lived one.
There are drawbacks, however. The main drawback is that the new proposals suggest that the new label is upgraded to add an extra category for the top grade in both wet grip and rolling resistance.
The more stringent tests for A-grade are likely to lead to the A-grades being essentially empty, at least in the short- to mid-term. While these grades may see more tires meeting the requirements in the future, the speed of the new rule coming in would lead to higher costs for no significant benefit, say the tire makers.
Other drawbacks include a proposed change to the label design, which would confuse the public.
The ETRMA engaged a consultancy firm to carry out a study on the use of labels. It looked at around 400,000 tires sold in the EU between 2012 and 2017, and assessed them by the label ratings for wet grip and fuel economy. Tires with neither label below B (A-A, A-B and B-B) made up 2% of the market in 2017, up from 1% of the market in 2012.
2012 to 2017 Market Assessment Study, Lizeo Oct 2018
Most popular label is E-C in 2012 and 2017.
Most popular label is D-C in 2012 and 2017.
Tyres equal “B-B” or better are less than 2% of the market in 2017 (about 1% in 2012). “C-C” or better moved from about 17% in 2012-2013 to about 25% in 2017 (75% of the market is below “C-C”).
The most common combinations had improved slightly, but not enough, said ETRMA, to justify an extra grade rating. This is borne out by our own estimates that suggest an A-A rated tire is close to the limits of current tire technology and can be achieved only with some compromise of tire life.
An additional grade would bring the A-A rating beyond the reach of almost all tire makers, except for very specific applications, such as racing tires (with a very short life) or maybe hyper-mileage tires where grip and handling are less important than extreme fuel economy.