SAN FRANCISCO-Easy on the environment and easy on the wallet, they're billed as ``America's environmental tires''-brought to you by EcoTerra Ltd., a newcomer to North America's retreading industry that calls itself a ``company working with nature.'' Though retreads have always been marketed as economical alternatives to new tires, as recycling increases in popularity, astute marketers have progressively touted their ecological benefits.
Enter EcoTerra's ``International'' brand remanufactured performance car and van tires, which are being heavily promoted as a ``green'' alternative, alleviating overburdened landfills and landscapes littered with scrap tires.
Next to price, the bead-to-bead retreads' chief selling point is their warranty, which includes:
Free lifetime rebalancing;
Free TireCheck valve stems;
Free full coverage against failure due to defects in workmanship or materials and against road hazard failure for the life of the original tread, with no prorating.
S- and T-rated tires are warranted for 55,000 miles; H-rated tires, for 50,000 miles.
San Francisco-based EcoTerra Ltd. chose to slowly begin marketing its tires last November through 18 dealerships in California and 16 in New England.
But it has ambitious plans to build a tire remolding facility, probably in the Oakland, Calif., area, within the next eight to 10 months, according to officials.
Currently, EcoTerra's tires are manufactured in Wolverhampton, England, by Retreads International, which makes remolded tires for distribution mainly on the European continent.
Bailey Sory, EcoTerra's vice president of sales, said the company is selling about 1,700 tires per month. ``We're finding a great deal of demand. Once motorists realize there's an environmental alternative (to new tires), they make the purchase. We're trying to keep up with demand.''
Company literature notes it is ``committed to saving natural resources and preserving our environment'' by recycling.
It points out that by purchasing four EcoTerra remolded tires, consumers can ``save 18 gallons of oil and rubber tree forest; preserve valuable landfill space; increase tire and fuel mileage; and improve safety and air quality by using our complimentary TireCheck air pressure valves.''
EcoTerra also claims its tires:
Equal the safety and performance of premium new tires at a savings of 30 percent or more;
Lower cost-per-mile through tire mileage guarantees and warranties; and
Have half the factory defects of new tires.
Built on premium-quality steel-belted radial casings using tread patterns similar to Pirelli and Michelin designs, EcoTerra's tires are unique, Mr. Sory explained, because they incorporate ``relatively new non-toxic tread compounds,'' manufactured by Avon Tyres Ltd. in England, and ``ozone-resistant sidewalls that will not break down quickly.''
Retreaders in Europe have been using the new compounds with a great deal of success, he added.
Dealers are not reimbursed for the warranty program by EcoTerra, Mr. Sory said. ``We work out arrangements with them as part of the services we provide. And a lot of dealers offer those services anyway as part of their efforts to get customers coming back.''
Early in his career, EcoTerra President and CEO Ernest Moore worked for Goodyear International and also was managing director of a remold facility in Europe. He acknowledges that successfully selling remolded tires calls for reeducation-not just for consumers, but for tire dealers, as well.
``This market won't mushroom overnight. There's a lot of hard work that has to be done, a lot of grassroots conversion-much of it in dealers' minds.''
That won't be an easy sell, he admitted. Dealers in his age bracket-the 50s-often dismiss passenger retreads because of past ``debacles,'' when poorly recapped tires failed.
Reaching those dealers, he said, will take special merchandising and sales training efforts, plus ``the basics everyone else has forgotten.'' That includes providing good point-of-sale and promotional material, and ``going out and driving business into their stores.''
``The big boys have co-op advertising and blimps and all. We're not going to ever dominate the market,'' Mr. Moore said. ``But maybe, over time, up to 15 to 20 percent of American motorists, given an option, will buy a recycled, environmentally appropriate tire. That will depend on product acceptability and performance.
``...We feel we must get with qualified independent dealers who truly provide after-sales service. Our belief is: People can buy a tire for $3 less, but if they don't have proper tire maintenance programs, that money is wasted in the first six to eight months.''
Eventually, EcoTerra plans to offer about 80 specific all-season passenger and van tires, and a few selected light truck models.