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Let your tires do the rolling, not your heads

Given that tires are the only thing connecting your driver, their cargo and your profits to the road, spec'ing the right tire, and its subsequent use within your fleet can be one of the most crucial s...


Given that tires are the only thing connecting your driver, their cargo and your profits to the road, spec’ing the right tire, and its subsequent use within your fleet can be one of the most crucial safety and economic decisions in your business. Treading and retreading issues in the truck tire market have always been plentiful, but as manufacturers continually attest, the business sometimes gets the bare minimum of attention from fleet managers, which is admittedly baffling. Chose incorrectly and you could be missing out on potentially massive long-term savings, or worse still, opening your company up to costly accident claims. What follows here then, is a brief look at some emerging trends and helpful reminders when it comes to today’s diverse tire market. From application to purchase decisions, these tips from some of the continent’s top manufacturers will certainly point you in the right direction, as well as keep you up to speed on both the exciting and the dubious market movers of the past 12 months.

Tread Applications

According to all the manufacturers we spoke with, one of the key ingredients in a solid tire program is the careful and detailed assessment of your application and its unique needs. Ralph Beaveridge, marketing manager, truck tires for Michelin Canada, mentioned this aspect right off the bat. “Managers have to understand the dynamics of their fleet,” he says. “Some of the bigger ones have quite varied applications, and each manager needs to understand all of those applications.” When it comes to trucking, those applications are usually broken down into three groups. By way of a caveat, it should be noted that in terms of the Canadian market, due to shifts in the business and a general climate of consolidation, individual trucks are being used for more than one of these functions, and while the terminology differs slightly between the various manufacturers, the categories can be roughly understood as the following:

Long-haul applications are those in which the ideal tire would be one suited to extreme distances over reasonably flat straight roads. Ideally these are the highway trucks that make long North/South, and long East/West runs, with minimal city and close-quarter driving;

Regional, which refers to the curb-crashing city delivery and short-haul vehicles;

Specialty, or off-road applications, most commonly seen where trucks are used on unpaved surfaces, as is common in the mining and forestry industries.

With all of the research and development that has gone into these various tread patterns, the decision can be daunting, but not impossible according to the manufacturers. Greg Cressman, technical services director for Yokohama Canada, seems to sympathize. “Managers need to understand that all of our patterns are purpose built,” he says. “If the wrong one is chosen, it might look similar but have a dramatic difference in performance, or the ability to ward off a road hazard.” Cressman went on to describe the multitude of tread patterns that can also exist within just one of the aforementioned categories, and why a solid relationship with an independent tire dealer is critical. “Managers can often pick the right category for their needs, but it will probably not be optimal, given the wide range of tread patterns. That’s where a specialized tire dealer can really help,” he says.

The Retread Conundrum

Retreading is perhaps one of the most useful, yet most often misunderstood or underutilized facets of modern fleet management. While new retreading technologies as well as safety and consistency measures have vastly improved the end product, the entire niche still tends to suffer from some old, outdated attitudes. Bruce Scobie, manager of retread systems of Canada for Goodyear, laments that misconception. “There is definitely a mindset out there that new tires won’t fail, but retreads will, and that’s an absolute fallacy,” he says. “It’s a tough one to get through, because the first thing an old trucker will say when they see a gator, is ‘Oh, that’s a retread,’ when all the stats will tell you the failure rate is even between retreaded and new tires.”

One company that has made its bread and butter in the retread market is Bandag, and according to Chris Hoffman, the product manager for global tire products, some new technology is coming on stream that might begin to change some perceptions, and certainly increase product quality. “Recent advents can allow for much higher success rates for retreads,” he says.

“We use a new process called shearography, and it has resulted in substantially less failures. The machine basically looks for irregular movement in critical areas of the casing, and tells us whether that casing can be used. We obviously still do our standard 14-point inspection, but the new process uses lasers to measure surface anomalies,” he adds.

Essentially, the advent of shearography, and its proliferating use, is starting to have an impact on the reliability of retreads, and is certainly making it tough for fleet managers to fall back on their previous notions and tire tread dogma.

However, simple economics can, and has been a major motivating factor, that is starting to drive some fleets back into the retreading game. “Retreading gives managers the opportunity to maximize their investment,” says Beaveridge. “When you make your tire purchase, you have to take into account a 30% cost just for the casing alone.” Essentially, retreading allows you to hold onto that 30% as something of a capital investment, and reuse that product until the end of its service life, which could be three or even four more retreads, assuming you change its location according to wear, from steering to trailer applications for instance.

Cressman went so far as to note that the majority of reliable product today is certainly meant to be retreaded. “All of our product is built with retreading in mind,” he says. “We work with an all steel construction, and that is the most conducive to reuse. Now, things like preventative maintenance monitoring tread and casing wear will help maximize your opportunities, but so will the initial tire selection. Getting to know your tire dealer, and bringing him on as a partner in your process will lead to your best retreading opportunities,” he says.

Offshore Tires Rolling into Canada

Just about everyone spoken to for this article had something to say about the massive influx of foreign sourced tires that seem to be flooding into the North American marketplace. While they preferred not to be mentioned by name, or have a specific comment attributed to them, suffice to say that the vast majority mentioned that tires being imported by Johnny-come lately companies are a hot topic within the business.

Like many other motive industries today, at the very heart of the matter is price. Due to exceedingly low labour costs in some Asian countries such as China and others, some very attractively priced truck tires have made their way into the Canadian market. With bargain basement manufacturing and labour costs, coupled with little infrastructure to support, overhead costs are greatly reduced for many of these new players, resulting in their ability to offer customers some seemingly unbeatable deals. However, the adage of ‘too good to be true’ seems to be applicable here; the economics may not actually be so cut and dry. According to the top North American suppliers, and especially those involved in retreading, fleets and fleet managers who were initially wooed by the basement cost now paying the price. As discussed previously, the retreading of a perfectly good casing can and should be a major part of any overall fleet strategy. Unfortunately, given the reportedly inferior quality of the engineering processes used in the tires in question, managers have found a significantly large percentage of their investment simply unusable after the initial tread fails. Taking those numbers into account, one should clearly note that a casing that can be
reshoed twice or even three times is likely a much more economical decision, regardless of initial retail price.

Furthermore, as a result of low domestic infrastructure investments, (i.e. money spent on this side of the pond) many of the offshore, discount tire suppliers simply cannot, or are unwilling to provide reliable customer support. As one exec mentioned, it is largely an attitude of “if our product sells, then great; but if not, we’ll just pull up stakes.” On the flip side, most of the premium tire manufacturers pride themselves on their commitment to the market, and their commitment to the customer. In short, you get what you pay for, and if customer service and long-term economic stability are important to you and your company, then low-balling your tire costs may not be the wisest course of action.

Conclusions

If there can be any overarching theme to be drawn from this review it should be this: establish a good relationship with your independent tire dealer. In fact, comically enough, it seemed as though most of the tire execs we spoke with were far less concerned with ensuring the sale of their own product, as they were about emphatically making this point. Sort of like doctors shilling pharmaceuticals, the major tire manufacturers seem reasonably content to focus on getting people into the ‘tire doctors,’ and competing with one another in that arena, as opposed to direct competition for the favour of fleets. With that said, larger fleets are certainly welcome to deal with the manufacturers directly, but the establishment of a good working relationship with the independent dealer is still desirable if not downright essential.

Fast Facts

Highlights from our annual Equipment Buying Trends Survey of fleet attitudes on offshore tires

Have used offshore truck tires (from China, Korea, etc.)

No81%

Yes19%

Axle position in which offshore tires being used

Trailer71%

Drive24%

Steer6%

Retreading offshore brands?

No69%

Yes31%

Would you replace your brand name tires with new offshore brands?

No88%

Yes12%

Would you use offshore tires rather than retreading brand name tires?

No86%

Yes 14%

Strategies for optimizing tire costs in future

In-house preventive maintenance 67%

Better product selection 13%

Acquisition price20%

Source: Equipment Buying Trends Survey 2006, Transportation Media Research

Assistant editor J.D. Ney comes to Motortruck Fleet Executive Magazine after completing a Master’s degree in journalism, and working with several automotive publications.


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