Executive View: It’s a Team Game

by Lou Smyrlis

David Scheklesky, Director of Commercial Truck Tire Marketing for Bridgestone/Firestone Canada on the need to grow the manufacturer-dealer-fleet partnership in improving tire management practices.

TN: What would you consider to be the main challenges facing your customers today when they are spec’ing tires?

Scheklesky: The challenge our Canadian fleets have is selecting the right tire for the right application. Trucking companies need to implement procedures to effectively manage their own tires. We feel this can be done more effectively by developing strong relationships with both the tire manufacturer representatives and the servicing tire dealer who can provide a single-source solution for their tire requirements.

TN: How is Bridgestone/Firestone meeting those challenges?

Scheklesky: We have a team of truck tire specialists that work closely both with trucking companies and tire dealers to ensure they are aware of our new products, latest technologies and also to ensure they have the expertise to effectively spec’ tires on the wide range of applications. Bridgestone/Firestone supplies specialized tire training that helps fleets make a more informed purchase decision.

TN: Looking at it from the other side of the fence, what would you consider the main challenges facing truck-tire manufacturers today and how is your company responding to them?

Scheklesky: The manufacturers’ challenge is to continue to invest and develop innovative technologies in order to sustain a position of technical leadership. The business success will be dependent upon the manufacturers’ ability to meet our fleets’ and dealers’ needs more effectively and efficiently. As manufacturers we must recognize and continue to strengthen and sustain our competitive advantage – training and development, responsiveness, strong customer support, quality products, technical support and product expertise. And we must always look ahead to find new opportunities in today’s rapidly changing business environment. If we stop to look in the rear view mirror we run the risk of being passed.

TN: Bridgestone/Firestone recently announced a realignment of its business units. Can you explain how this will affect the commercial tires division, and in particular the Canadian office?

Scheklesky: As a result of the recent realignment, Bridgestone/Firestone Canada Inc. will now have greater access to resources and system efficiencies from the U.S. to strengthen our Canadian sales and marketing efforts. The Commercial Tire divisions can now better focus on their core businesses.

TN: What’s the reasoning behind the realignment and how will it improve dealings with the commercial truck sector?

Scheklesky: The realignment will allow Bridgestone/Firestone Canada to better focus on each division, and better address the unique needs of our commercial truck dealers and Canadian fleets. Both the consumer and commercial business is very specialized. In order to address the changes in technology and the marketplace we need to have dedicated product specialists.

TN: Is the downward pressure on pricing an issue for truck tire manufacturers?

Scheklesky: The challenge manufacturers have is to recover our escalating material cost in an industry that is constantly faced with adverse operating conditions; increasing insurance costs, fuel prices and most recently the increasing value of the Canadian dollar.

TN: Considering the cost pressures Canadian fleets face, what’s a workable solution around this issue?

Scheklesky: The challenge and workable solution we have as manufacturers is to anchor the pricing relative to the attributes and values of our products. It takes considerable commitment and investment to market and quantify these values and demonstrate the costs savings for our customers. As manufacturers we spend significant dollars on product research and development to improve fuel efficiency, provide more resistance to irregular wear and increase the mileage of our tires. Our pricing should be proportionate to the value that the new technologies deliver. Ultimately, as technology and products evolve this will translate to a higher price for the manufacturer and a lower cost-per-mile for our customer. Product values can be determined by fleets when the fleet and Bridgestone/Firestone product specialists work together toward specific cost saving goals. Tire removal mileages can be increased, for example, by establishing realistic goals, selecting tires and maintenance programs to achieve these goals, and then following up by measuring the results.

TN: In your view, is the average Canadian motor carrier sophisticated enough in his tire selection and subsequent tire management practices to ensure he is getting the most out of his tires? If not, what needs to change?

Scheklesky: Tires are the second largest maintenance cost to a fleet, surpassed only by fuel. The average Canadian carrier is knowledgeable as it relates to tire selection. However, tire management practices do vary from one trucking firm to the next. A key change to recommend would be to encourage fleets to adapt a regular and disciplined tire management program. Target tire inflation pressures should be documented on vehicles. Make sure every one who maintains tires knows the correct inflation pressures. Inflation pressures should be part of the pre-trip inspections. Mechanics should check pressures when vehicles are being serviced. Weekly yard inspections could be initiated. Preventative maintenance, which includes balance, rotation and alignments can reduce vibration and irregular wear and can go a long way in reducing total tire costs.

TN: Fuel economy is big on the minds of all carriers these days. Aside from two major upward fluctuations in diesel prices since 2000, the new EPA regulations are expected to negatively impact fuel economy. How is the company dealing with the fuel economy challenge through tire design?

Scheklesky: There is a direct relationship between rolling resistance and fuel economy. Most of the rolling resistance of a tire, about 60 per cent to 70 per cent comes from the tire tread. The remaining 30 per cent to 40 per cent comes from the casing. We’ve focused on both tread compounding and casing effects. Some compounds, especially those incorporating silica or using special combined formulas that combine natural and engineered-structured synthetic rubber, can reduce rolling resistance significantly. Fuel economy is dependent on so many variables: speed, aerodynamics, engines, drivers, loads etc. Since it is very difficult to control these diverse variables, fuel economy has always been difficult to measure.

TN: Your Greatec line of ultra-wide radials are marketed as tires that offer better fuel economy. Can you elaborate on the fuel economy gains you are seeing?

Scheklesky: Depending on how many axles are converted, we expect to see savings between two per cent to five per cent on fuel.

TN: Of course, there are more benefits to wide base tires. Can you elaborate on additional features that make them worth considering?

Scheklesky: The wide base tires weigh far less than the dual assembly it replaces. By converting both drive and trailer axles you can reduce the weight by over 1,270 lbs. per vehicle. The weight savings allow for extra load carrying within the vehicle’s total capacity. The overall carrying cost of a wide base tire is less; fewer tires translate to less costs and maintenance. Also there are half as many tires to mount, balance and maintain.

TN: I also understand you have come up with a new technology called AIRCEPT to deal with situations where there is a sudden loss of pressure in a Greatec tire. Can you elaborate on that?

Scheklesky: AIRCEPT is actually an “assistant inner ring interceptor” that begins to expand as soon as the tire pressure drops below a specific level. By the time a total loss of pressure occurs, AIRCEPT has expanded to fill the entire interior of the tire, and supports the load on the tire. This technology has been designed to keep the vehicle safe and stable in the event of a sudden loss of pressure. Studies are
now under way to determine if and how we could apply the Aircept concept to the North American trucking market.

TN: The steer position is one of the more difficult for which to design a tire, particularly in the punishing regional haul and P&D service sector. Can you outline how the design of your R260F deep tread steer radial meets the rigors of these applications?

Scheklesky: The new R260F has a 22/32nd tread depth, more than 20 per cent deeper than standard steer radials, for long wear in high-scrub operations. Because deeper treads are more likely to experience irregular wear, the 260F has been designed with small ribs alongside main ribs called Equalizer Rib structures that absorb the irregular wear forces. Stone rejectors in the main grooves prevent the retention of stones that can drill into the belts diminishing casing life. The R260F also has thick protector ribs on both sidewalls to resist curbing damage common in both regional haul and P&D service sectors.

TN: What do you see as the major changes in terms of tire technology and design over the next decade?

Scheklesky: We can expect to see lower profiles and wider treads. We may see the use of more synthetic products replacing natural products such as steel and natural rubber in an effort to reduce the overall weight. We can also expect that electronic technologies will continue to evolve to help trucking companies better manage this resource.

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