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Tackling the Big Questions

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pete-selleckFor 30 years, the Clemson University-sponsored Global Tire Industry Conference has drawn the attention of manufacturers, suppliers and dealers, covering every subject from training to marketing, from the latest in rubber compounds to the latest in government regulations. It has been the place to network while gaining new insights into technology trends, industry issues, distribution and supplier shifts, the latest product innovations and market challenges.

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The 31st annual conference met April 15-17 at the Omni Hilton Head Oceanfront Resort in gray and rainy Hilton Head, S.C. While little in the way of outdoor activities was accomplished during the three-day conference, the 80 attendees enjoyed a packed schedule of 21 individual presentations.

Pete Selleck, president and chairman of Michelin North America, was lunchtime keynoter on the second day. Selleck talked about MNA’s close relationship with the state of South Carolina, and shared MNA’s perspective and position on two key regulatory matters.

While recognizing that it is a “controversial issue,” Selleck said MNA is in favor of a return to mandatory tire registration.

“In the event we have a problem, recovering as many of the tires involved in a recall is extremely important. Every tire that you can’t get is an issue. Today the recovery rates are normally somewhere around 20%. That means 80% of the tires in the recall we can’t find. Some of them may have already been worn out, but we can’t account for them. We don’t know where they are. And obviously that’s a problem.

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“Obviously registration should be a point of emphasis for both manufacturers and dealers as a means to improve recovery rates,” he said. “The RMA (Selleck is current chairman of the RMA) supports mandatory registration. We’ve had a voluntary registration program now for a couple of decades. We’ve seen really the limit of what that can do.”

NHTSA’s painful slowness in enacting final rules for consumer tire fuel efficiency, tire labeling, consumer education and wet braking and treadwear testing may be a blessing in disguise. Selleck said there is a shift now among manufacturers who are now considering the benefits of setting minimum performance standards rather than grades. Those tires that do not meet agreed performance levels could not be sold in the U.S., he said, effectively taking questionable tires off the shelves while still giving consumers better information from which to make tire choices.

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Selleck said such systems have been in place and quite successful in many other countries around the world, from Europe to the Middle East to South America.

“We believe, and this is increasingly our main position, that the United States needs a rolling resistance and a wet traction standard, the minimum level that all tires have to be at. We think it’s important to conserve resources and conserve fuel. It improves safety. Obviously wet braking improves the safety performance of vehicles. It encourages innovation, R&D and the use of the latest technology that the industry has. It improves the environment by lowering emissions, and it aligns us with the rest of the world.”

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On the first day, attendees heard from Glen Nicholson of TBC Corp.’s store group on dealer training needs; John Evankovich of Sam’s Club discussed ways to leverage consumer feedback to improve tire products, and TIA president Freda Pratt-Boyer offered her ideas on what tire stores need to help launch new tires. Andrew Lovell of Eastman Chemical Co. rounded out the morning session with his presentation on innovation and product development challenges the tire industry currently faces.

The afternoon session focused on new tire technology and featured presentations by Eugene Peterson of Consumers Reports on tire counterfeiting; Al Cohn from Pressure Systems International used a football to help illustrate his comments on truck tire inflation; Guy Edington from Standard Testing Laboratories discussed the latest in tire rolling resistance testing; and Dean Tener of Smithers Rapra commented on creating and using tire models in R&D work.

Day two kicked off with Tire Review editor Jim Smith discussing the current complexities facing the U.S. tire market, followed by RMA’s Tracey Norberg’s presentation about key issues tire manufacturers are addressing, including tire registration and pushing for the adoption of minimum performance standards. Bill Niaura, head of Bridgestone Americas’ research into guayule, spoke about steps the industry can take to build a sustainable natural rubber resource.clemson2

The morning session continued with Brent Gruber of J.D. Power & Associates and his presentation on the impact of OE tires on a consumer’s vehicle experience. The EPA’s Dennis Johnson provided an update on the agency’s SmartWay technology program.

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Following Selleck’s lunchtime speech, Judy Douglas of Lanxess Corp. kicked off an afternoon session dedicated to raw materials with an update on elastomers, followed by Leszek Nikiel of Sid Richardson Carbon Co. on advances in carbon black production, Marcus Copperwheat of Solvay-Silica on new silica options, Hilton Lewis of GVD Corp. on mold release technology, and Gary Horning of Intertex World Resources on synthetic rubber.

The presentations on the final morning were focused on environmental issues, and included Michael Blumenthal of Marshay Inc. on the future of scrap tire management programs, James Middleton of SR20 Holdings on the need for a sustainable business model in tire recycling, Lynn Bell of Goodyear about measuring social sustainability, and Kirk Nicholas of Calibre Systems on quality management systems.

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