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Truck Tire Segment Looks Set to be Two-Horse Race in 2009

2008 has witnessed something of a battle of the titans at the top of the commercial vehicle (truck and bus) tyre market.

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While long-time market leader Michelin still remains a strong force in the market, the last 12 months have seen the French manufacturer and Bridgestone tussle for the top spot. At the moment Bridgestone looks to be edging ahead and is keen to position itself as U.K. market leader, however, Michelin is also aggressively gaining business. As a result the two companies are widening the gap between themselves and third place, where there is another battle going on (between Goodyear/Dunlop and Continental Group) for the number three slot.

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Based on the ETRMA’s Europool total for the U.K. market (around 1.1 million), minus 5% for Northern Ireland, Bridgestone is slightly ahead with a leading market share of just over 29%. The Japanese manufacturer may be a nose in front as it stands, but there isn’t any clear water between it and Michelin and the general financial instability of the market could play a key role in deciding who comes out on top in 2009.

During a recent Truck Point dealer road show Bridgestone UK director commercial vehicle sales, Greg Ward, explained how financial pressures have caused developments in the fleet market that will have an inevitable impact on tyre sales. For example, in 2008 Eddie Stobart, one of the U.K.’s largest fleets (1,850 trucks and 3,000 trailers), has been exercising an expansion by acquisition strategy – most recently buying James Irlam of Stoke for £62 million. Following the takeover, the company in control of this tyre supply contract could suddenly be in-line for significantly increased business, potentially tipping the balance of market leadership back the other way. The collapse of the Innovate fleet at the beginning of the summer also shows how unpredictable events can affect tyre sales. The assets were again bought up by Stobart Group.

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However, putting these events into perspective, Greg Ward commented: “I don’t think there will be many more fleets to go out of business…We’re not bullet-proof buy we stand a good chance [in 2009].”

The growth of the Bridgestone Truck Point network of independent tyre dealers, coupled with a series of company-initiated fleet gains is what has led to Bridgestone’s increasing market influence. At the time of going to press, the Truck Point network covered 306 outlets, 1,000 service vans, managing 50 centrally billed national fleet customers. (Including Europe, it swells to 2,349 outlets in 28 countries). This year, Bridgestone’s truck tyre sales development culminated with the acquisition of the manufacturer’s first four bus contracts – Thamesdown, First Bus, Veolia and Plymouth City Bus.

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2008 also saw Bridgestone cement its first concrete deal in conjunction with its recently adopted sibling, Bandag. From now on 13 Larfarge locations, not to mention Cemex lorries will be running on Bridgestone products. The latter contract, for Cemex’s aggregates and cement fleet is said to be worth £1.6 million and represents a three-year contract. In addition, it emerged that oversight of Bandag will officially be phased into Bridgestone Europe by the end of 2008.

New Truck Point brand of retreads to be launched in 2009
Looking forward to 2009, Bridgestone is planning to significantly increase its retread offering. First of all the company has announced that it will introduce a new Qualitread size (385/55 R22.5), which is being introduced as a result of Bridgestone’s recent bus fleet success. This will be followed by a number of other retread size additions.

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However, perhaps the biggest development in the retread department will the re-launch of the company’s Truck Point brand of retreaded tyre. The move, which is being described as “a major expansion of this offering,” is expected to take effect at the end of the first quarter of 2009. (Tyres & Accessories/Staffordshire, U.K.)

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