One Last Hurrah?
Bozarth Riding Into the Sunset on Heels of Last Annual ITRA Show
It was a bittersweet end to an annual exposition, one that had run for 44 years and boosted the retreading, commercial tire and tire recycling industries. Not only was this year’s World ITRA Expo the last annual gathering, and overall attendance was down again, but the International Tire & Rubber Association lost two key leaders.
At the same time, ITRA’s elected leadership said it is looking forward to increasing its emphasis on the commercial tire industry, commercial tire service training, and a change to regional conferences on a biennial basis.
And while there was no doubt this year’s show in Nashville was smaller and attracted fewer attendees, most agreed that trade show floor traffic was actually better than last year, especially on Saturday, the last day of the show.
This year’s World ITRA Expo featured 141 exhibitors, excluding ITRA-related booths, down from 194 a year ago. Exhibit space was also reportedly down some 15,000 square feet from 2000’s 56,000-square-foot space.
And attendance, which has dropped dramatically over that past four years, was down a reported 21% from 2000’s 2,730, which represented an 18% decline from 1999’s show. ITRA initially estimated there were 2,200 to 2,500 attendees – including showgoers, exhibitors and spouses ®“ at this year’s expo. That range was later refined to a reported 2,150 total attendees.
Shortly after this year’s expo ended, long-time ITRA Executive Director Marvin Bozarth, who has headed the association since 1992, announced he would leave his post at year’s end. Bozarth, 64, wants to remain involved in the ITRA, and may take on special projects and training program development for ITRA. The association immediately set up a search committee to find his replacement.
Also departing is Bill Gragg, who served as ITRA’s technical director since 1994. Gragg has retired from his ITRA post and established Retreading Solutions Inc., a consulting firm that will be based in Louisville, Ky.
Before he joined the ITRA staff, Bozarth was vice president of manufacturing for Purcell Tire Co. He was a member of the association’s advisory council from 1982-1991, and also served as the group’s technical director. He became executive director of ITRA in 1992 upon the retirement of Ed Wagner.
During the post-show wrap-up press conference, Bozarth said ITRA membership had reached 1,810, and all-time high for the association, with international members comprising 16% of the total. He and the ITRA Board of Directors also discussed how the ITRA will move forward on its plan to go to a biennial trade show, alternating every other year with a series of regional conferences.
“We’re looking forward to doing it,” said incoming ITRA President Tom Raben regarding the regional conference format, which will begin in 2002. ®A lot of our attendees come every other year anyway.®
The first regional ITRA conference will be held in Palm Springs, Calif., in February 2002, according to association officials. ITRA is looking at sites in the Midwest (possibly Illinois) and the East for additional regional meetings in 2002. Each regional meeting will be designed to address issues specific to that region.
While ITRA officials assure that the trade show and conference will return in 2003, no location has been selected and no dates set. New Orleans, Charlotte, Fort Lauderdale and Louisville have been mentioned as potential sites for the next World ITRA Expo in 2003.
Also during the World ITRA Expo, membership elected new board members, and the board elected new association officers. Peggy Fisher, president of Fleet Consulting in Rochester Hills, Mich., and Larry Sehman, president of Sehman’s Tire Service in Franklin, Pa., were re-elected to three-year terms on the board, while Mark Whaley, of Iowa Mold Tooling, and Buck Blair, of Tech International, were elected to replace Bob Sherwood, outgoing ITRA president and president of Tristani Retreading Corp. in Bayamon, Puerto Rico, and Bill Babek, former ITRA president and president of Babek Commercial Tire Service in Avenel, N.J.
The board elected new officers for the 2001-02 term, tapping Raben, president of Raben Tire Co. in Evansville, Ind., as president; Dick Gust, president of Lakin General in Chicago, as vice president; and Jimmy Crews, president of Tire Treads Inc. in Jackson, Tenn., as secretary/treasurer.
Juries Clobber Conti, Cooper
Even though a Los Angeles jury agreed there were no design defects in the tire and that the company did not act with malice, the same panel ordered Continental Tire North America (CTNA) to pay a Las Vegas woman $55.4 million in damages for an accident she claimed was caused by a faulty General AmeriTech ST radial.
The jury award, which did not carry punitive damages, is believed to be the largest damage award in a tire tread separation case.
That early-April finding followed on the heels of a Texas jury’s award of $10 million to the relatives of four people killed in an 1997 rollover accident they claimed was caused by a defective tire produced by Cooper Tire & Rubber Co.
In the CTNA case, Cynthia Lampe was paralyzed from the neck down in a June 1996 accident on I-15 between Los Angeles and Las Vegas. Lampe’s mother and boyfriend were also injured in the one-car accident, which they claim was caused when the left rear tire on Lampe’s Ford Taurus separated. CTNA said it will appeal the verdict and jury award, saying it was “deeply disappointed” in the outcome of the trial.
“The evidence did not substantiate the verdict, and numerous evidentiary rulings – including those related to the manufacturing defect issue ®“ were wrong and prejudicial,” a CTNA spokesman said. ®The tire was one of four OE tires on the vehicle, and was driven almost 50,000 miles prior to the accident. A tire that traveled that many miles could not have been defective.®
The jury voted unanimously that CTNA was negligent and that the specific AmeriTech ST had a defect. “Not only did the plaintiffs fail to produce a single AmeriTech ST that had a defect, but the other original tires on the vehicle were found to be free of any defect,” the CTNA spokesman said. ®In fact, of the four AmeriTech ST tires originally installed on the Lampe vehicle, one was replaced four days prior to the accident because of roadway damage, not a defect, and the other two had continued to run without any problem even though both tires had been punctured and repaired.®
Meanwhile, an El Paso, Texas, jury deliberated three days before finding against Cooper in a product liability accident filed by the families of four people killed in a minivan rollover accident involving Sigma radials produced at Cooper’s Texarkana, Ark., plant.
Cooper has said it will appeal the jury verdict and award. In a prepared statement, Cooper said: “The tire on the minivan did not cause the accident. The driver’s cocaine impairment plus the pre-accident puncture of the tire are two key factors. Also, the fact that this tire was in service for three years and had more than 30,000 miles help prove the tire was properly manufactured.”
BFS launches confidence rebuilding program, some say too late
After eight months of lingering questions about the future of the Firestone brand and near-daily news stories questioning the quality of its Firestone brand tires, Bridgestone/Firestone Inc. (BFS) finally launched a comprehensive national advertising campaign with the hopes of rebuilding consumer trust in the brand and company.
Titled “Making It Right,” the multi-media effort, launched in early April, was created by Grey Worldwide. The two-phase campaign includes newspaper, magazine and television ads featuring John Lampe, BFS’s chairman, president and CEO, outlining the company’s plan to restore consumer confidence.
The second phase later this year will feature race drivers Mario and Michael Andretti, who will discuss tire maintenance and safety, and talk about their experiences with Firestone tires, according to BFS.
“The ‘Making it Right’ action plan is an important part of our commitment to restoring public trust in the Firestone brand,” said Lampe. ®We believe in our tires, and we want to prove to the American public they should believe in them, as well.®
The new campaign includes full-page ads in USA Today, Wall Street Journal and selected newspapers nationwide, as well in key automotive and tire industry magazines. The television ads will appear on network morning and evening news programs, primetime newsmagazine programs, and cable news and entertainment channels. The spots will also run during CART and IRL races broadcast on ESPN, ESPN2 and ABC.
Some already feel BFS’s advertising effort is too little and too late. In a May 2 story in the Augusta (Ga.) Chronicle, Britt Beemer, founder of America’s Research Group, a marketing research firm based in Charleston, S.C., said BFS “should’ve been out there with some sort of advertising strategy within two months of the problem,” and that BFS ®might have done irreparable harm to the Firestone name.®
“Our numbers say that Firestone has potentially lost 60% of its customers,” he said. ®Firestone may eventually evolve into some other brand.®
A February poll by Harris Interactive and the Reputation Institute found BFS’s reputation was lowest among the companies surveyed, including cigarette-maker Philip Morris. And a March Total Research Corp. survey said consumers gave the Firestone brand a reliability rating of less than 4 on a 0-10 scale, down 40% from last year.
Shu Ishibashi, president of the BFS’s U.S. Consumer Tire Group, who oversaw the development of the campaign, said advertising is just one element. BFS will also hold numerous ride-and-drive events for consumers across the U.S., and will continue providing tire care and safety information through in-store brochures and its Web site at www.tiresafety.com. In addition, the BFS campaign will utilize database marketing, in-store promotions, car care clinics and Internet advertising.
Ford investigation continues to blame the tires
Consistent with its past position, Ford Motor Co.’s own investigation of the factors that led to problems with now recalled Bridgestone/Firestone Inc. (BFS) tires laid the blame squarely on tire design and manufacturing. Additionally, Ford said poor tire maintenance by owners of its Explorer SUV also contributed to tire failures that plagued the vehicle for most of the past decade.
No where in the report it submitted to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) in late April did Ford even hint that the design of the Explorer, questioned by various consumer groups, liability attorneys and BFS’s own internal and independent investigations, had any role in hundreds of rollover accidents that were attributed to the P235/75R15 Firestone ATX II and Wilderness AT tires that were recalled.
Most of the 174 deaths and more than 700 injuries NHTSA’s says were linked to tread separations of the recalled tires involved rollover accidents with the Explorer, Ford’s single best-selling product.
Ford’s internal investigation, which reportedly considered property damage and injury claims made against 11 different SUV makes and models and its own engineering data, totally absolved the design of the Explorer as a contributing factor in tire-related rollover accidents. Independent investigations by consumer groups and BFS’s own investigations blamed unique vehicle design factors, as well as tire design and manufacturing problems, for tread separations attributed to the recalled tires.
At the same time, news reports say that rollover damage claims against Ford (where dollar amounts were specified) well exceed $590 million, that Ford has already settled some 100 individual rollover-related lawsuits, and that Ford is facing some 400 other damage lawsuits involving rollover accidents with the Explorer.
Goodyear goes to the farm for new technology
First it was cotton. Now it’s corn. Using a new compounding technology it calls BioTred, Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co. is producing a new line of passenger tires in Europe featuring corn starch as a partial substitute for traditional compound fillers like carbon black and silica.
The corn-based starch filler, created in a process similar to the corn starch created for food, delivers lower rolling resistance, noise reduction, lower carbon dioxide emissions, and reduced energy use in production vs. traditional fillers, according to Goodyear.
The corn starch used in BioTred technology, said Goodyear, is treated to obtain micro droplets of starch, which are then treated to transform them into a biopolymeric filler, with physical properties substantially different than carbon black or silica.
Fillers have long been used in rubber compounding to reinforce the compound and optimize performance properties. Carbon black has been used for decades as a filler, primarily because it was inexpensive to produce and gave tires their familiar black color. Silica emerged over the last 10 years as a secondary filler because it aided in wear and traction.
The new Goodyear GT3, currently available only in Europe, is the first product on the market using BioTred technology, said Goodyear. Reportedly, Goodyear spent five years developing the new filler technology, and holds several patents on it. According to news reports from Europe, the same starch filler could also be produced using potatoes.
Goodyear certainly isn’t treating BioTred as toy technology. According to the company, the Goodyear GT3 reduced audible noise levels by three decibels vs. its predecessor, the GT2. And, compared to the GT2, the BioTred-enhanced GT3 delivers 20% lower rolling resistance and 10% shorter wet braking distances.
Ford in Europe has already signed on and will be fitting the Goodyear GT3 as OE on its Fiesta sold in Europe. The tire, which will likely make its way west, is currently available in 17 sizes ranging from 155/70R13 to 195/65R15.
Maxxis earns supplier award from Ford
Cheng Shin Rubber Industries, which supplies Maxxis branded tires to Ford in North America, Taiwan and China, was honored by the automaker for product quality and delivery at Ford’s World Excellence Awards Banquet. Cheng Shin received the Silver Award from Ford, and was the only tire company among 38 global suppliers so honored by Ford.
Maxxis tires supplied to Ford are fitted on Ford Mondeo, Transit, Crown Victoria and Grand Marquis models. Ford’s supplier awards include platinum, gold, silver and achievement honors.
Falken plans three new tire lines
Falken Tire Corp. will be launching three new performance tire lines in the coming months, targeting luxury touring, SUV and high performance segments.
Later this coming summer Falken will release the new Azenis ST115, focused on touring applications. By the end of the first quarter of 2002, Falken’s STZ 04 light truck/SUV line will be available. And the Ziex ultra high performance line will be dropped in favor of the new Ziex 5-12, which will have a modified tread pattern, and will be available in late 2001 or early 2002.