Michelin retreads coming to Canada

by John G. Smith

MONTREAL, Que. – Michelin Retread Technologies’ first Canadian franchise will officially be open for business in March, once full production begins at Robert Bernard TRM Ltd. of St-Paul d’Abbotsford, Que.

Michelin hasn’t had a retreading operation in Canada since the early ’90s, when a Lachine, Que. operation closed after more than 15 years in business. But Michelin is now using a different process than the one that was the specialty of only seven “artisans”, says Ralph Beaveridge, marketing manager for the company’s Canadian operation.

“Pre-Mold is going to be a much cleaner, nicer product in terms of cosmetics,” he says. The process involves an infrared machine that takes nine pictures of the casing at different inflation pressures, to spot any potential flaws before a new tread is applied.

“We were in the tire rebuilding process,” Beaveridge says of the former Lachine operation. “It’s not a re-start. It’s a different process.”

And the new approach to retreading shouldn’t be hampered by the same weeks-long waits that were experienced by customers of the Lachine operation.

“A lot of what we did was a bit of overkill,” he adds of the previous process. And there was the issue of shipping casings from across Canada, meaning that owners had to wait as long as two weeks before hearing inspection results. “It was more a geographic limitation.”

“We entered the U.S. retreading arena in 1997 to raise the bar for the industry,” said John Rice, chief operating officer of Michelin America Truck Tires. “We have been quite successful and have grown to include 31 franchisees across the U.S. It’s a natural evolution to bring our solution to the Canadian market in 2000.”

Still, it hasn’t been an uneventful entry into the retreading business. Bandag, which retreads tires in Canada and the U.S., has launched a legal challenge against Michelin’s competitive practices south of the border. (No such case has been launched here.)

Now that the matter is in the hands of lawyers, neither side is willing to talk about the state of the case. But if September press releases are any indication, neither Bandag nor Michelin appeared willing to budge.

Bandag filed its lawsuit with the U.S. District Court on Sept. 16, charging that Michelin is leveraging its power in the new tire market to force dealers to convert to its proprietary system, and “pricing products below cost and in a predatory manner at major fleet accounts and dealers.”

Bandag wants actual and punitive damages – and a court injunction against Michelin’s expansion into the world of retreading.

Said the Bandag press release, “Michelin has attempted to eliminate Bandag as a competitor in the U.S. retread tire market for the commercial trucking industry by undermining Bandag’s dealer network, misappropriating trade secrets, spreading false rumors about Bandag, and engaging in predatory pricing.”

For its part, Michelin said the claims were “without merit”.

“We plan to take an aggressive stance against all claims,” said John Rice, chief operating officer of Michelin Americas Truck Tires. “It’s clear Bandag is concerned about competition from MRTI in the market and is now inappropriately attempting to use litigation to try to prevent Michelin from continuing our entry into the retreading industry.

“We believe tire dealers should be able to exercise their freedom of choice when determining which retreading process to use for their business.”

Bandag holds more than half of the U.S. retreading market. n

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