As Washington spins its wheels in the debate over tire pressure monitoring systems (TPMS), tire makers are becoming increasingly frustrated. “For tire pressure warning, we would expect that we may need to redesign some tires so that they can carry a greater load at lower pressures,” says James Whiteley, Goodyear Tire and Rubber Co. vice president-global product and process quality. The Rubber Manufacturers Assn. says such performance characteristics might be necessary if the regulation's current wording is adopted. That's because the proposed rule could allow monitoring systems that warn drivers only after tire pressures become dangerously low.

The mandate for equipping light vehicles with TPMS is part of the Transportation Recall Enhancement, Accountability and Documentation Act, borne by the Ford-Firestone tire debacle. Scheduled to take effect June 30, it will apply to '04 and subsequent model-year vehicles. Compliance, Whiteley warns a recent auto safety conference sponsored by the Society of Plastics Engineers, “may also mean larger tires on some vehicles.” Meanwhile, tire producers Yokohama Rubber Co. Ltd. of Japan and Continental AG of Germany form Yokohama Continental Tire Co. Ltd., a 50-50 joint venture to exchange technology and expand Continental replacement tire sales in Japan.