LOUISVILLE, Ky.-All the signage, logos and literature throughout the hall proclaimed ``American.'' But there was little doubt the ``39th ARA World Tire Conference & Exhibition'' was an international affair reflecting the former American Retreaders Association's recent adoption of a new, all-encompassing name-the International Tire and Rubber Association Inc. (ITRA). Explaining why everything at the Louisville conference still bore the ``ARA'' acronym, ITRA Director Terry Westhafer, president of Central Tire Corp. in Verona, Va., said it was to lessen any confusion. ``We have not dimmed in our enthusiasm for the name change,'' he told attendees at the general session, ``or the mission that lies before us.''
Some critics, at least informally during the April 18-20 show, had questioned dropping of the name ``retreader'' from the association's title.
But moments later ITRA President Bill Babek reassured any naysayers that ``we're not losing our roots, our core, where we're from. We're expanding our horizons.'' He then added: ``You are now part of the International Tire and Rubber Association,'' emphasizing the word ``international.''
The conference's attendance numbers bore that out.
While non-exhibitor attendance grew a modest 2 percent over 1995 figures to 2,807, some 25 percent of this year's registrants-704 persons-came from outside the U.S., representing 63 countries. That compared to 510 registrants from 44 countries in 1995.
Perhaps reflecting a new corporate frugality, the number of exhibitor personnel attending the show dropped 21 percent from 1995, to 1,862. Exhibitor booths were down from 231 in 1995 to 220 this year.
Marvin Bozarth, ITRA's executive direc-tor, later told journalists that a number of delegations from foreign countries-including Brazil, which had 55 international attendees, the most at the show, Spain, Mexico, France, Poland and India-came to the conference specifically to discuss with him establishing an alliance with the ITRA.
And, he added, they were ``ecstatic'' about inclusion of ``international'' in the name.
He said he had received several inquiries about whether the association is still com-mitted to retreading, to which Mr. Bozarth replied: ``If it's not, they'll be looking for a new executive director. And I mean that.''
During an update of ongoing ITRA membership programs, Mr. Bozarth noted that the ITRA had established a new commercial tire group to address issues affecting that market segment as well as develop specific programs to help commercial dealers succeed. He also said the ITRA's year-old Tire and Rubber Recycling Advisory Council (TRRAC)-which just published a booklet of scrap rubber terms and processes-has already become a guiding force in the recycling arena.
At the general session Mr. Babek, who operates Babek Commercial Tire Services in Avenel, N.J., delivered a ``state of the industry'' discourse as well as a look at a dynamically changing and expanding landscape that promises more consolidation, tighter controls on quality and costs, and continued globalization.
``When you look at the exhibitors and attendees, it's clear we're not just retreaders anymore,'' he pointed out.
Along with the international flavor, the conference also reflected the changing nature of the ITRA itself. As the number of retreaders in the U.S. continues to dwindle, they are being replaced in the ITRA's membership by scrap tire processors, commercial tire dealers and tire repair personnel.
In fact, a hefty portion of the conference's seminars covered recycling topics ranging from crumb rubber usage, cryogenics, strategies for producing and marketing high quality tire-derived fuel, to the sorting and grading of tires for recyclability and profitability. There also were safety demonstrations on rubber recycling machinery.
As the needs of the association have changed from its early days as the Central States Retreaders' Association, the ITRA has also broadened its horizons. It can no longer be satisfied with ``business as usual,'' Mr. Babek stated, due to numerous changes within the industry, including:
New-tire manufacturers' increasing involvement in retreading;
The fact that ``not too long ago'' the ratio of new truck tires to retreads sold was 2:1, but is now two retreads to one new tire;
The increasing trend toward national programs for commercial tire users that encompass new-tire and retread purchases, and service from a single national tire supplier; and
The growing interest in mold cure retreading as companies search for better production methods.
He said the gravitation toward nationalization of purchasing programs ``means the local fleet you used to do business with may not exist anymore. They may be part of a national group,'' and may not have the ability to make purchasing decisions. Consequently, the same number of retreaded tires may be purchased, but by a decreasing number of buyers on a national basis.
The ITRA's membership must also be prepared to meet the increasing emphasis on the industry's use of information systems to control costs, Mr. Babek said. ``These will be used by retreaders and demanded by national fleets to control expenses.
``They will demand specific information about tire expense control for every location they operate,'' such as retreadability by brand, out-of-service reports, tire retreading and repair history, and aggregate cost data by site.
``This will be mandatory. Many people, unless they address this on their local level, will not be able to participate in these programs,'' he warned. ``Why? Because we're in the computer age. It isn't just retreading tires anymore.''
These systems, he continued, also benefit retreaders and commercial dealerships by providing ``to-the-penny'' data about product costs, thus enhancing productivity, tire tracking capabilities, proper billing of repairs to retreads, and better management of every area of a company's operations.
``Our business is changing,'' he concluded, and ITRA ``must change to fit within it and to meet your needs today and better prepare you for the challenges of tomorrow.''