After launching through an accelerator platform that helped companies like Airbnb get their business model off the ground, Detroit-based automation and robotics start-up RoboTire is looking to redefine how tires are changed and who can do the job.
To help accomplish this goal, the company closed its $7.5 million Series A investment round, led by the Reinalt-Thomas Corporation, which does business as Discount Tire and America’s Tire. RoboTire’s patented system uses robots to change tires in under 15 minutes, the company claims, and has multiple patents pending for its automotive systems.
- Click here to watch a video of RoboTire’s tire changing technology in action from the 2021 SEMA Show.
Read through the Q&A from Tire Review’s meeting with the company at the 2021 SEMA Show to hear more about RoboTire’s mission, vision and more.
TR: When did RoboTire get its start and why did you decide to start the company?
Victor Darolfi, founder and CEO: “January 2020, that’s when we kicked off, and we kicked it off by going through YCombinator … it’s one of the top-tier accelerators, which has been used to launch companies such as Airbnb.”
Will Mapes, co-founder and chief operating officer: “Talking about the problems that we solve, one of the big core problems the industry has is a lack of technician talent. There are new people coming into the industry that want to change tires as a career choice, and then ones that are there are leaving the industry. Shop owners across the United States are facing this problem, constantly losing people, and they spend most of their time recruiting technicians, so there’s a big gap.”
With fewer technicians working in shops, and in turn, performing vehicle maintenance, customers end up waiting longer for a tire change, Mapes said. “That’s where we’re addressing that problem. We can change tires in 20 minutes instead of the hour, two hours, three hours it sometimes takes.”
TR: What types of vehicles do your robots work on?
Mapes: “[We work in] the light-duty passenger market for light-duty vehicles. Anything from your F150, Silverado 1500, those size trucks and down to passenger-size vehicles. Anything for medium-duty, commercial-grade product, we’ll be releasing a [tire-changing robot] in calendar year 2022.
“To answer your question, there aren’t any limitations on the types of wheel and tire combinations the [robot tire changer] can work on.”
TR: What’s the maintenance and operations like for this? Do you need someone with technical expertise to operate and maintain the robot or is this a job any technician can perform?
Benjamin Wilson, senior manager of operations: “From a technician perspective, really, it’s not a lot. We have a great technician training program … where we teach people to be RoboTechs.
“As Will alluded to earlier, one of the biggest challenges the industry faces is the shortage of technicians. Whether it’s people don’t want to be in the industry, it has a bad rep or they just don’t want to do the work. Being a tire tech is a very difficult job; it’s a hard job … and it’s not a very glamorous job.
“Our goal is to really redefine that role of the technician. Take someone maybe right out of high school who has an interest in technology or maybe they think robotics is a way they want to expand their career. The way that we like to think about it is, we’ll teach them the fundamentals of vehicle maintenance, but really it’s a course in robotics. We’re designing a curriculum to teach them the fundamentals so they understand how the robot works, we give context around it and we’ll also teach you how to change tires.”
TR: What type of shop is this the ideal investment for?
Wilson: “Any automotive shop. Any high-volume tire shop. We have customers who do 40 to 50 tires per day; we have customers who do over 100 tires in a day. It really just depends on the use case and what they want to get out of it. Tire shops, automotive aftermarket shops, anyone that really … changes the game from how you market and how you compete against others in the same space.”