The Guardian Publishes Michelin-Sponsored Tyre Labelling Roundtable
The Guardian has published comments made by the eleven participants in a roundtable discussion about the new European tyre labelling system, which will be introduced in November 2012. Operating the Chatham House rule (attributing no comments to those who made them), the discussion was split into the categories of what information the labels will contain – the tyre’s fuel efficiency, wet grip characteristics and road noise – and what the current labels do not contain – specifically the make and model of the tyre graded and the lifecycle of the tyre; both features that similar labels in the USA do contain.
The article – printed on page 7 of the SocietyGuardian section on Wednesday, 9 June – goes some way to summarising the current status of the tyre labelling conversation in the UK – an issue familiar to regular readers of Tyres & Accessories and tyrepress.com and exemplified by articles linked below. The roundtable was “commissioned and controlled” by the newspaper, “funded by Michelin” and the discussion was “hosted to a brief agreed” between The Guardian and the French tyre giant.
While “most people at the roundtable thought the labels were a good idea, and an opportunity for their business” to engage the UK consumer in a buying decision that does not necessarily settle on price, there was room in the discussion for debate as to whether the differentiation between grades will be balanced in a way that will allow manufacturers to use the labels as a selling tool. “The worst option,” one participant opined, “would be setting standards so almost all tyres fell in the middle ground and were rated C and D.” Another questioned whether there were any A-rated tyres on the market; a question Pirelli’s representatives tackled at the launch of the Italian firm’s Scorpion Verde (a “green tyre for SUVs”), when they said that no tyre today would meet the standard currently set for A-grade fuel economy.
The potential effects of the labels on consumers were described as “creating a ‘push and pull’ dynamic between the industry and the public,” the article says. “We have to provide the information, which is the push, and then the pull has to come from [the consumer],” suggested a participant. The article explains that this pull factor is presently in one direction only – “The education I get from customers is that they want the cheapest. We tend to sell on price,” stated a panellist. Some suggested there could be the impact of increased costs and rising prices as a result of “[driving] poor manufacturers out of the market”, though the impact of similar labelling legislation on the price of white goods has provided little evidence for the former and other panellists disagreed on the latter.
The experience of those in the white goods field suggested that labelling has “seen energy efficiency racing up the list of people’s priorities”, while verification of manufacturers’ eco-friendly claims was generally seen as an opportunity “to build trust”. “We could see attitudes change as they have when people now go to buy a dishwasher,” one speaker speculated, suggesting tyres’ status as distress purchases only to many consumers could be reversed.
The Guardian report concludes that “the British public will perhaps find out that tyres are more than just black and round. And that informed choice could make for safer roads, reduced fuel consumption and fewer CO2 emissions.”
Representatives at the meeting, which took place on 6 May, 2010, were: Jo Confino, executive editor (development) at The Guardian, who chaired the meeting; Colomba Zeal, retail operations director at ATS Euromaster; Denis Linehan, operations support manager at Lease Plan UK; Noel Pope, Merityre managing director; operations director of Arval UK, Angela Motacure; Ian Grant, MD at Just Tyres; Steve Parker, Stapleton’s retail director; operations director at Hitachi Capital, Tim Bowden; David Evans at Which? magazine; and Bob Wilcox and Jianni Geras, purchasing manager and head of UK marketing respectively at Michelin.