TIRE BUSINESS recently published a letter by Henry Carleton of Carleton Equipment Co. expressing his unhappiness with the Tire Retread Information Bureau's (TRIB) effort on behalf of passenger tire retreading. I, too, have expressed my concern about the future of this important sector of our industry, but I can't agree with the idea that TRIB is the culprit. Over the years, TRIB has done a good job for the average retreader, who is assisted in a way that would be impossible without TRIB.
It has long been a disappointment that many retreaders do not support TRIB. In this respect, they have been their own worst enemies.
I believe that if any finger is to be pointed regarding the declining fortunes of passenger tire retreads, it should be aimed at the retreader himself and secondly at the retreading equipment manufacturer.
Some years ago a survey showed three out of five tire dealers and retreaders rated retreads poor in comparison to new tires. TRIB Managing Director Harvey Brodsky's presentation of ``How Not to Sell a Retread'' at the 1983 American Retreaders' Association Conference startled his audience with the statement that 20 out of 26 retreaders contacted did their best to discourage the purchase of passenger tire retreads.
At one point, more than 10,000 independent retread shops operated in the U.S. Today, fewer than 1,500 retread shops exist, with only about 300 engaged in the production of passenger tire retreads.
The future of retreading depends on three factors: technical advances by new tire makers; technological gains by retreaders; and public acceptance of the product. Each new tire development results in problems for the retreader.
Passenger tire retreading started to decline with the introduction of the radial in the mid-1960s. Michelin introduced a whitewall radial for the American market in 1965. B.F.Goodrich followed with the first U.S. radial near the end of that same year.
Initially, the yield of radial casings for retreading was quite low due to technical problems in the retreading process itself. Traditional methods were tried but did not work-radial tires simply could not be stretched or shrunk to fit bias ply molds. Many retreaders tried this, but few succeeded in producing a quality radial retread in a bias ply mold.
Consumers began to shy away from retreads because of a number of other problems as well.
For instance, motorists' perceptions of retread quality began to suffer because of the many bits and pieces of failed tires along the highway. Radial failures resembled thrown treads and consumers believed they were retread failures. The retreading industry made only a half-hearted attempt to publicize the fact that the majority of this debris was from failed new truck tires, not retreads. This problem continues to be ignored, for the most part, with the exception of TRIB's efforts.
The shortage of usable casings was another problem. The increasing proliferation of sizes and types have had a serious effect on retreading. Also, the built-in quality of the radial lowers its retreadability simply because it is on the road far longer than a bias ply tire.
The growth of passenger tire retreading also was affected because of the problem of war-time quality and the enduring war-time reputation when retreaders were forced to use reclaimed materials, obsolete equipment and sub-standard casings.
Then there were the years when consumers were buying cheap new tires for about the same or lower price than a retread. Unfortunately, this problem remains with us today.
The problems we had with tubeless casings and ``soft'' cushion gum were long lasting setbacks. Of course, we must not pass over those unscrupulous retreaders, some of whom still exist, who turned out inferior products.
Compounding this was the reluctance of suppliers to develop machines geared to producing a quality radial retread.
When the radial appeared on the European market some years before it did in the United States, retreaders quickly recognized the extra work and precision required to retread a radial justified automation. As a consequence, machines were developed to do the job more efficiently.
As long as I can remember, foreign machines have been displayed at our trade shows, often in booths set up as operating shops actually producing retreads. Unfortunately, this equipment was not readily accepted by U.S. retreaders despite the fact that it was technically superior to the more labor intensive, outdated equipment offered domestically.
It has only been in recent years that more suitable equipment has been produced by U.S. manufacturers for the processing of radials. However, a number of retreaders closed up shop because they had missed the boat. They had given little thought in determining if the machines they installed were good or had proved effective for radials.
I could write many an article about the unsuitable equipment I often found in shops trying to retread radials. Too many retreaders were kept out of touch with a changing market and most opted out of passenger tire retreading.
A little noticed factor in the promotion of radial passenger tire retreading was Michelin's opposition to supplying specifications and mold drawings despite the fact truck and earthmover information was readily available to manufacturers and retreaders. Oddly enough, Michelin was one of Europe's largest passenger tire retreaders.
Based on this somewhat brief analysis of the circumstances that impacted passenger tire retreading, the problem does not lie with TRIB.
Instead, it lies with the individual retreader and those equipment manufacturers who resisted the development of modern, automated machinery for the production of top-quality retreads.
I might also mention the declining emphasis on retreading at our trade shows, which is due to fewer U.S. manufacturers exhibiting their wares as well as the fact that there are fewer retread shops still in business.
From the facts at hand and based on past and future trends, I can not help but believe passenger tire retreading's best days lie in the past.