Comment: Soft touch enforcement?

By the time you read this it will be nearly six months since tyre labelling became mandatory in the UK and across Europe. However, while the rules associated with this regulation have been anticipated for years, and indeed a rolling introduction began in May 2012, nearly a year after we all began talking about who got what label there is still something of a gap when it comes to enforcement. We have talked through the various options available to the British government in the pages of Tyres & Accessories before (see our 2012 Tyre Labelling special supplement for more on this) so there’s no-need to retrace those steps here. However the central point that rules are only as strong as their enforcement still stands. And the need is getting more urgent. As long as we don’t have an enforcement body in place there is a disincentive for dealers and other parts of the tyre trade to invest what’s necessary in systems and training to ensure labels are being talked about during the sales process. In its place all we have is de facto Andrex-soft enforcement.

The “good” news is that we are not alone. Unlike with s-marking, in the months since we published our labelling supplement last summer it has become clear that the lack of enforcement body is not something that is limited to the UK government. In Germany the received wisdom is that labelling legislation is supposed to be policed by the 16 states that make up the country, however this is far from clear and there is danger that everyone is expecting the other to take responsibility for this. In France the situation is similarly unclear. In fact things are comparably opaque across Europe.

But the fact that we in Britain are no worse than anyone else is no excuse for our government continuing to drag its feet. I have lost count of the number of times I have asked the people that connect our industry with the Department for Transport (DfT) for confirmation of what is going on. It’s not their fault. It is just that there is little evidence of any progress. In fact my calls and emails to the DfT during the last month have all gone unanswered, suggesting there really isn’t anything more to say. And yet conversely it seems that we hear that they are getting closer to appointing someone 12 times a year, so it would be atypical if DfT suddenly made a concrete announcement this time.

The problem is that with every month that passes the situation is arguably getting worse. That is not to say that our respective national authorities are going backwards and getting further away from appointing agencies to oversee the roll-out of labelling across the continent, but rather there is less and less impetus for dealers to make an effort to be label ready. Of course there are many professional businesses that are already kitted out for this. The labelling POS visible during a recent visit to a medium-to-large chain demonstrates this point. However, this is not the case across the board as our recent “Question of the Month” illustrates.

With only around 6 per cent of UK sales calls mentioning tyre labelling at the end of 2012, we asked readers if they are using labelling as a sales tool in their dealerships. First past the post was the “it needs to get established” option with 44 per cent voting this way. Another 37 per cent said “customers aren’t interested”, while a surprising 11 per cent said they don’t trust the grades and another 8 per cent complained that the current system doesn’t help find the right product, especially when it comes to winter tyres. Of course we know that that our monthly polls are not exactly scientific, but these responses are indicative of the relative apathy around this issue. With the majority waiting for the labelling “to get established” and with governments failing to appoint enforcement bodies and thus “establish” the system, who knows how long it will be before we see the really impact of labelling.


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