Have you ever seen one or more of the Seven Wonders of the World? From the Colosseum in Rome, Italy, to the Great Wall of China – these spectacles are larger-than-life human-made structures that show off our indelible craftsmanship. You may be thinking to yourself, “There’s no way this industry could have such spectacles in its arsenal.” You are wrong.
Behold, the giant Goodyear 63-in. RM-4B+ OTR Tire, featured at this year’s Off-the-Road (OTR) Tire Conference.
Not only is this a big tire – standing at 13 feet tall with an 86.4-in. diameter – but it’s a symbol of the effort by those in the OTR industry who perform at a high level and reach new heights, literally.
The 68th OTR Tire Conference, hosted by the Tire Industry Association (TIA), brought OTR industry representatives together in Tucson, Arizona from Feb. 22-25. During the conference, OTR industry vets discussed hot topics like the push for sustainability and the future of infrastructure in the US. The conference aimed to equip OTR dealers and industry executives with the latest technology and market trends in the OTR tire and manufacturing industry.
Guests gathered at the El Conquistador Tucson, where they took part in nightly mix-and-mingle events featuring vendor tabletop displays. On the second day of the conference, guests chose to either relax at the spa, hit the links or shoot sporting clays.
Following an introduction from TIA CEO Dick Gust, Jim Pangle, 2023 TIA president and senior vice president of operations at Fountain Tire, discussed his thoughts on the state of the OTR industry and its impact on the tire industry.
“While not the largest segment in terms of units, OTR tires make up for it in pounds,” Pangle said. “The OTR tire industry and OTR tires are critical to future global expansion and economic growth of the tire industry.”
Legislation and the OTR Industry
One piece of economic stimulus that will significantly impact the OTR industry is the $1.2 trillion omnibus infrastructure law that was passed in 2021. In his legislative update, Roy Littlefield IV, TIA’s vice president of government affairs, said the investment represents the most significant amount allotted for the US transportation system since the 1950s and 1960s.
This year, Littlefield said the US Department of Transportation (DOT) has released $59.9 billion for building critical infrastructure, such as roads, bridges, tunnels, emission reduction and safety improvements. These funds are an increase of $15.4 billion from 2022 spending.
Littlefield discussed additional legislative activity that affects the OTR industry. He said that though TIA expects gridlock and dysfunction in the 118th Congress, the need for bipartisanship remains in order to accomplish change for the OTR industry.
“The North American OTR tire market is the largest in the world and vast investments are being made in our infrastructure of hotels, stadiums and casinos,” Littlefield explained. “Only now is the literal and figurative rubber starting to hit the road. The market is poised for continued growth and every segment we serve is running in high gear.”
He added that TIA’s efforts in sustainability need support legislatively and that nuclear energy and mineral production are areas where legislators can work together toward robust and bipartisan solutions.
“TIA has been on the front lines encouraging the acting government agencies to implement and fund the infrastructure lawfully,” Littlefield said. “The association has encouraged the advancement of scrap tire markets and opportunities for rubber-modified asphalt and tire-derived aggregate.
“Members of both parties have signaled openness to unleash American energy production. If Congress can realize this potential, the demand for OTR tires is certain to grow.”
Commitment to Sustainability
Ana M. Arce, Bridgestone’s senior manager for corporate sustainability, discussed the company’s sustainability efforts and the importance of a sustainable future for the industry. She said that sustainability is hard, expensive and requires a lot of resources, but it’s the right thing for companies to focus on for a better future. Arce emphasized the importance of partnerships, saying that it will take multiple companies to solve sustainability issues in the industry. She said partnerships are cheaper, faster and produce more comprehensive results.
She used Bridgestone’s partnership with LanzaTech Solutions, a company focused on bioprocessing and converting post-consumer waste through a process of gasification and fermentation, as an example. She said this partnership, in particular, could provide Bridgestone with more sustainable materials to use in its manufacturing process.
“We are seeking partners who share the spirit of our founder in doing work that is good for society and good for business,” Arce said. “It’s not about doing more, it’s about doing it better. It’s not just about what we do, what we make, or what we sell; what really matters to us is the positive and long-term impact that we can have on how people move live, work and play.”
She talked about Bridgestone’s E8 commitment, the company’s promise to support the realization of a more sustainable society and future. The eight “E” commitments that Bridgestone will contribute toward include energy, ecology, efficiency, extension, economy, emotion, ease and empowerment.
Whether it’s the company’s commitment to use 100% sustainable and renewable materials in its tires by 2050 or to be 100% carbon neutral by 2050, the journey will be challenging, but Bridgestone is committed to making it happen, Arce said.
Bridgestone’s goal is to work with its value chain to move away from petroleum and shift to renewables like the guayule plant to create more sustainable tires, Arce said. During last year’s Music City Grand Prix, she said Bridgestone tested a racing tire made partially with guayule and tracked its performance.
Bridgestone’s research and development team has a specific roadmap to help reach the 2050 milestones, she said. The company is also working with farms and in controlled environments to collect natural water from guayule, which is grown in the Mexican desert and the southwestern United States.
According to Pangle, TIA is on top of sustainability and EV trends and can provide safety training for those vehicles.
“I want to see TIA become a go-to for information and training regarding tires and tire service for electric vehicles,” Pangle said. “We are all seeing how fast EVs are entering the market, and I believe EVs will hit like a tsunami in the next few years.”
He also recognized the need to address the labor shortage and the evolving technological demands of the industry, especially for electric vehicles. He highlighted TIA’s sustainability efforts by creating the Electric Vehicle Advisory Council and championed the Repair Act. Pangle encouraged industry members to get involved with TIA to keep up with the latest trends in sustainability and training.