Under a compromise reached between the European Parliament and member states in the EU Council of Ministers, a label similar to the energy information provided with household appliances will have to accompany tyres distributed from a factory to a shop or a garage from 1 November 2012.
The label will classify tyres from the best-performing 'A' class to the worst 'G' class. In order to promote fuel-saving tyres, EU countries will be allowed to provide financial incentives only for tyres that reach at least 'C' class.
In addition to its impact on a vehicle's fuel efficiency, a tyre's performance in wet conditions and its rolling noise in decibels will also have to be indicated.
"The new labelling system is a straightforward measure with great advantages for the environment and consumers," said Belgian MEP Ivo Belet (EPP), who steered the legislation through the Parliament. He added that manufacturers would encounter minimal costs.
Critics argued that the legislation had been softened under pressure from manufacturers, recalling that earlier drafts of the law would have made stickers on each tyre compulsory at the point of sale.
The compromise, however, offers as an alternative to the sticker the option of showing the label to the end user before the tyre is sold. According to critics, this makes the scheme practically voluntary and unenforceable.
"If the intention is to inform the consumer about the safety, fuel efficiency and noise of the tyre before a purchasing decision, it is essential that the label is displayed on the tyre itself," said Stephen Russell, secretary-general of consumer group ANEC.
"A voluntary scheme won't work and is a huge waste of legislators' time," added Jos Dings of environmental group T&E.
Tyre maker Michelin told Reuters that it would prefer mandatory labels.
"We will show the labels on the tyres ourselves, even if it is not compulsory," said Michelin spokesman Fabrice Lenica.