As with most great adventures, the first steps are usually the hardest to take.
CMA and Double Coin began marketing TBR products in North America in 1992, with container-delivered, price-driven programs. Dealers were able to use the products as profit building items to offer end-users cost alternatives. Distributors could use the products as profitable lines that could be marked up and still meet market price requirements.
That was 1992. This is 2010.
Today, our need is to move toward Tier 2 – and then to Tier 1 – with products, performance and services. That is what customers want, and future growth depends on it. But when your R&D center and manufacturing are thousands of miles away, trying to accomplish those things can be difficult.
This is not intended as a commercial for CMA or our products, but our unique experiences can help dealers understand how being able to conquer time and space can be as important as any tire performance criteria.
Moving from a container-program business model to a distribution-based model is not at all easy, but we did have a few advantages. First, our focus on TBR and small OTR allowed us to keep a tight focus on end-user requirements instead of having to juggle multiple lines and categories.
Secondly, building and maintaining brand awareness is paramount, as it allows consumers/dealers to regard these brands as true competitors in the mainstream tire market. Again, with a tight product focus, accomplishing this was much easier.
Third, our parent company understood the paths forged by companies like Michelin, Bridgestone, Toyo, Hankook and others – all of which started as container-program suppliers and grew into major North American players by tailoring products and services to meet the needs and desires of all types of customers. That meant a consistent investment of resources and lines of communication.
Finally, meeting end-user demands and succeeding in building brand could only come with technology. Again, a tight focus and a desire by our parent company to grow allowed us to harness the resources necessary to develop, test and produce TBR and OTR products for the unique needs of the North American market.
As a global manufacturer and marketer of TBR products, offering supply that meets the demands of the different global markets is important. Many locales in the world don’t have the production capabilities or technology to meet their markets’ requirements.
Growing a tire business in a customer-driven, highly sophisticated market like North America means delivering more than a container of hoops.
Efficient production is one of the keys, and we have been successful in meeting the fluid demands of the domestic Chinese market, as well as export markets. A healthy balance of domestic vs. export production, along with the ability to skillfully adjust production, allows the company to respond to fluctuating demands of global markets.
Most important is being able to address the changing demand and size requirements of the North American market. OEM, end-user and dealer inventories range from the need to “stack ’em deep and sell ’em cheap” to “just in time” deliveries for new vehicles. For the strongest impact on the market, being able to address these supply chain needs significantly reduces business hurdles.
The vast array of vehicles, roads and environmental conditions that exist in North America prevents “vanilla” products from being able to break real and perceived performance barriers. For example, trucks in China are such that the tires carry extreme weights, run on varying road surfaces (pavement to gravel to dirt or worse) and usually at speeds predominately below 55 mph. Retreading is not prevalent in China.
Consequently, the initial-life durability of a tire is the focus, so that meant that heavier, predominantly tube-type tires were needed to handle this extreme application. In the 1990s, our initial TBR products met that basic requirement. These types of tires became acceptable, but were not widely requested by certain end-users in North America.
North American end-users need a vastly different tire. Speeds, weights, vehicles, roads, lifecycle costs and retread requirements all demand products that would meet a durability standard and also perform well in new environments. Vehicle makers demand application-specific tires and most TBR manufacturers address this with different features both inside and outside the tire.
Our development followed a similar path as we recognized a “vanilla” product would not meet expectations. Higher speeds created a need for improved heat dispersion. The reduction/elimination of accentuated ride disturbance was addressed with more emphasis on uniform component standards. Long distance routes create different effects on tire performance. Retreadability and lower lifecycle costs placed a premium on casing durability and irregular wear resistance.
We committed technology to address those challenges, and field testing allowed us to test and retest compounds, components and designs.
As many customers – dealers and end-users alike – were trying the products for the first time, we had to hit the mark and make a strong first impression, or we would only be accepted as a price product. Focused collaborations with engineering staff allow specific needs to be addressed, even today as the market again changes requirements with more eco-friendly, lower rolling resistance product requirements.
To meet North American and global performance requirements, we invest heavily in expanding and maintaining the only China-approved, independent tire research institute. The institute allows for development, testing and revisions of products, components and materials at a faster pace than utilizing government-controlled or third party research labs. And this allows precise and prioritized focus on the engineering specifications of our products.
The introduction of the multitude of new TBR products to North America is a direct result of the technology developed at the institute. Each product is tested, modified and re-tested to assure successful real-world service. Direct collaboration with the manufacturing facility shortens development time.
Technology shared with raw material suppliers allows the company to involve itself directly with the latest component development. Many of the product performance improvements are derived from improvements of the internal components. Collaboration with equipment and raw material suppliers and other contributors has created more marketable and accepted products. And our goal is to do this at more reasonable costs and with our specific requirements in mind.
In-depth research in North America is also vital. Utilizing our field engineering staff, third-party facilities and dealer input, we benchmark products at the end-user level. This allows us to show real-time value and data to all parties involved.
‘Green’ Tire Industry
Changes in manufacturing technology have reduced carbon emissions footprints. The ecological impact of tire manufacturing is significantly important as the world struggles to protect the environment.
Whether it’s using a “nitrogen vulcanization” process for curing tires with less energy, designing lower rolling resistance tires that meet EPA SmartWay standards or embracing retreading in the domestic market, all technology and design is focused on increasing performance and lowering energy use.
Future development of super low-profile tires to increase vehicle aerodynamics, super-wide products to increase fuel efficiency of vehicles or other means of improvement is highly prioritized. In order to create a sustainable industry and secure the future of tires and transportation, we must support current and future ecological responsibilities to our environment.
Constant development of technology is key toward maintaining goals of higher performance and more eco-friendly products. These will allow for more end-user acceptance, dealer profitability and brand recognition. Most importantly, the technology must address the ever-changing landscape of global tire needs.
The need for the “right” products for the North American TBR market requires a huge commitment of resources and a challenging collaboration with people and facilities more than an ocean away. Fortunately, we are not the first to forge this path, and we have a company committed to this market with a sharp focus on products that will constantly test our technology and capability.