Chinese Tiremakers Plan Future Growth in U.S. - Tire Review Magazine

Chinese Tiremakers Plan Future Growth in U.S.

These days Chinese biking lovers are overwhelmed by a newly launched foldable electric bike called the Uma Mini, produced by Hangzhou-based tech start-up Yunzao Technology. The company has sold more than 2 million Uma Minis since the product was launched on June 24.

Similar enthusiasm is also given to the Ninebot electric self-balancing scooter by China’s popular tech company, Xiaomi, which sold more than 8,600 scooters in June alone on its online store at China’s largest B-to-C platform, Tmall.com.

More Chinese are buying electronic, smartphone-connected alternative transportation tools, and Jiangsu Seyoun Tire has caught on to the trend. The Suqian-based company manufactures tires for bicycles, motor scooters and motorcycles, and is now adding something new to its product line.

“In July, we plan to launch a batch of newly developed tires for balancing scooters and racing bicycles. We see more young people are adopting a healthy lifestyle and they like to ride rather than sit in a car,” said Qiu Shigang, Seyoun marketing manager.

Established in 2001, Seyoun is dedicated to the Chinese market with about 20% of its sales coming from outside of China, mainly from the emerging markets like India, Southeast Asia and South America. But, Qiu said the company expects to explore more opportunities overseas now that they are tapping into the lifestyle market.

“Westerners in general like to work out, go biking and all, so we think there are opportunities for us,” Qiu said.

Seyoun is keen to find new area for further growth as China continues to limit or ban the use of motor scooters and motorcycles in big cities like Beijing and Shenzhen to avoid accidents. The majority of Seyoun’s revenue, however, comes from tires for motor scooters.

“That’s why we really need a change,” Qiu said, adding aside from the policy, its business is also hurt by China’s slow economy, which has led to fewer scooter buyers.

Chinese tiremakers, such as Double Coin who sell truck and bus tires to the U.S., will have to make changes due to pending anti-dumping and countervailing duties.
Chinese tiremakers, such as Double Coin who sell truck and bus tires to the U.S., will have to make changes due to pending anti-dumping and countervailing duties.

Other companies need to make changes too. Especially those selling bus and truck tires to the U.S., which on June 28 issued a preliminary determination, throwing countervailing duties ranging from 17.06% to 23.38% on imported TBR tires from China.

China’s largest tiremaker, Zhongce Rubber Group, is a typical example. The state-run company last year was forced to temporarily retreat from the U.S. market as it was imposed 107.97% of anti-dumping and countervailing duties by the U.S. government. But Zhongce already has strategies to exclude the U.S.

In May, it attended the Essen Motor Show in Germany, showing its latest tires under the brands Westlake, Chaoyang and Goodride to European visitors. The same month, Zhongce went to Dubai to discuss “new business strategies” with its local dealer, Al Rahala International.

Like many other export-oriented Chinese tiremakers, Zhongce did not give the Chinese market enough attention in the past decades; however, that has changed.

In January, the company added its Chaoyang-branded bicycle tires to its online store at Tmall, which also sells its full range of passenger car tires including those for SUVs and racing cars. Last year, it introduced an aftercare service brand “Che Kong Jian”, meaning “car space,” recruiting franchisers nationwide. Consumers can book services in any Che Kong Jian store in China through a smartphone app. According to the company, making the service brand “strong and big” to serve Chinese car owners is its major job in 2016.

For the manufacturers with extensive experience in developed markets that are more demanding on quality, focusing on the domestic market is a right move, said a director at Beijing-based China Rubber Industry Association (CRIA). He declined to be named, citing government policies.

“Chinese car owners are getting more sophisticated and they demand the high quality tires that these tiremakers have long been manufacturing,” he said. However, he added that branding could be a concern as multinationals have dominated the Chinese PCR tire market, especially in the big cities.

“Chinese brands need to learn how to do marketing from multinationals to win over Chinese consumers,” he said.

While acknowledging that China’s slow economy would affect tire sales, the director said it also provides an opportunity for manufacturers to grow beyond sales.

For example, in June the CRIA hosted a press meeting in Qingdao, Shandong province, to introduce a green tire label, meaning a safe tire with lower carbon emission. According to the CRIA, the label is a result of multiple discussions with its counterpart in Europe – the Belgium-based European Tyre & Rubber Manufacturers Association.

The CRIA president Deng Yali said at the meeting that the green label is necessary to improve the industry in accordance with China’s 13th five-year plan (2015 to 2020), which underscores sustainable development across manufacturing industries.

Right now the label is not mandatory, but the CRIA expects it will promote the green idea among consumers, who will eventually pressure the tire manufacturers into making more eco-friendly tires, the director said.

Compared with a green label, the aggressive competition among large Chinese tire manufacturers to build highly automated facilities fit for industry 4.0, or so-called “smart factory,” is far more eye-catching.

A recent example is Qingdao Doublestar, which in May signed the Swiss automation solution provider ABB to build a smart facility. Its rival, Triangle in Weihai, is one step ahead, churning out tires since February from its CNY6.7-billion-worth ($1 billion) smart facility. Other companies in the arena include Zhongce and Qingdao-based Sentury Tire.

These costly smart facilities are showing the world the next generation of Chinese manufacturers, said the director from CRIA. “They are the model of our industry. We hope more manufacturers will follow suit.” 

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Dealer Training for a New Marketplace

Twenty years ago, a young non-profit professional was tasked with convincing the truck tire and wheel service industry that they needed to train their employees in order to comply with Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) regulations. It’s just as absurd as it sounds. Employee training has been required by OSHA for almost 40 years

Twenty years ago, a young non-profit professional was tasked with convincing the truck tire and wheel service industry that they needed to train their employees in order to comply with Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) regulations. It’s just as absurd as it sounds. Employee training has been required by OSHA for almost 40 years so the objective was to make them compliant with laws they should have already been following. And, it still took some convincing!
Fast-forward to 2016 and OSHA training regulations are at the bottom of the list when it comes to the problems facing most of the commercial tire dealers in the U.S. Compliance is met on the first day and the technician receives additional training in order to become certified in most cases. It’s a crystal clear process and virtually guarantees that every technician is properly trained in the eyes of the law.
For the retail industry, the legal obligation is not so cut and dry. The OSHA regulation that requires technician training for truck tires specifically excludes passenger and light truck tires. As a result, a lot of retailers continue with the ancient and indefensible method of providing education with on-the-job-training, also known as OJT. OJT relies on an experienced technician to show the new employee how to do the job. It’s also called “Old Joe” training because Old Joe passes his bad habits to New Joe who eventually becomes the next Old Joe and passes two generations of bad habits to the next New Joe and so on.
While truck tires and wheels haven’t changed much over the past two decades, the passenger and light truck tire industry has experienced a revolution. Between size proliferation, low profile sidewalls, tire pressure monitoring systems (TPMS) and online sales, the technological impact by itself is a lot to digest. However, there are millions of millennials who need tires now or in the future, and the retailer that finds the sweet spot for this generation of tire buyers will be in a very good position.
The best place to start is with technicians. Future tire buyers know virtually nothing about their automobiles, but they are not going to tolerate mistakes. If they get bad service or think something isn’t fixed correctly, they are going to absolutely bomb you on social media. From ratings pages to your own Web page, isolated instances can appear to be standard business practices for the next generation. If the employees who are responsible for mounting and installing the tires are not properly trained, they are going to keep making the same mistakes, putting your reputation at risk.
I find myself using the online rating service occasionally, but I don’t believe everything I read online. However, the next generation of a tire buyer does.
Another unfortunate truth about the new marketplace is the sudden increase in the number of OSHA inspections that appear to be targeting retail tire dealers. Compliance with all of the applicable OSHA regulations is not something that happens overnight. The truck-tire dealers figured it out a while ago and many are compliant across the board. Retailers aren’t familiar with OSHA so it’s easy for little things – like fire extinguishers past the expiration date, dirty floors or a ground plug that is missing from an extension cord – to slip by and go unnoticed.
One lay-up for the OSHA inspector is hazard communication. By Dec. 1, 2013, every employer in the U.S. was required to train all of their employees on the new label elements and safety data sheets for hazardous materials in the workplace. This means every chemical used in the shop (oil, fluids, aerosol sprays, etc.) must have specific information on the label and correspond to a safety data sheet (SDS) at a designated location. The objective, and a good one, is to make sure that any accidental ingestion, inhalation, exposure or absorption is met with the appropriate medical attention immediately. It’s “Workplace Safety 101,” yet I’m willing to bet that an embarrassing number of tire dealers (both retail and commercial) will have difficulty producing records that show training, and even more difficulty producing an SDS for every chemical in the shop.
For a complete copy of the OSHA Hazard Communication Standard, visit osha.gov.
Next, it’s time to look at training for the sales counter. For the small percentage of people in general who pick up the phone and call a business to speak with a salesperson, that call has to be on the money every time. The phone sales consultants and trainers make some serious claims about how many sales are lost because people don’t know how to sell over the phone. When the phone rings, the person answering it – who either transfers the call or helps the caller – had better be trained to do it correctly or the phone might stop ringing altogether.
In the new passenger and light-truck tire marketplace, getting the customer in the door is the greatest challenge. That explains why our members are telling us that sales training is becoming more important. On the retail side, there is unlimited competition and it’s only growing, so the knowledge and ability of the sales associate has to make a tremendous impact on the tire buyer. Again, it doesn’t happen overnight, so sales training and coaching will become more important as the number of people who actually want to interact with a real person decreases.

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