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Published on August 18, 1997

TIRE INNOVATION IS BACK

Have you noticed that tire technology is more and more in the news these days? Thankfully, corporate downsizing and consolidation no longer dominate the major announcements from tire manufacturers. Instead, the focus of these companies once again seems to be on product and manufacturing innovations intended to bring them increased market share and improve their bottom line.

This change should be welcome to independent tire dealers, undoubtedly fed up with industry negativism and hungry to read ``good news'' for a change.

Announcements of such breakthroughs are bringing excitement back into an industry mired in restructuring for nearly two decades. They also give tire dealers something new to talk about with consumers who often view tires merely as a commodity.

Take, for example, the following recent announcements by the three largest tire makers:

Goodyear, on July 31, revealed plans to convert all of its replacement passenger capacity to run-flat tires. This bold move has the potential to change the way tires are sold and could eliminate the need for a spare tire.

Group Michelin, earlier this year, announced construction of the first North American plant featuring its ultra-secret 3CM tire-building process. This revolutionary manufacturing concept produces tires using less energy and space and fewer employees, Michelin said.

Reportedly, it also is more flexible, allowing quick adjustment to meet market needs and customer demands.

Bridgestone/Firestone Inc., meanwhile, is touting its UNI-T technology, described as a ``total rethinking of the automobile tire.'' BFS said its new technology combines innovations in tire design, roundness and compounding to improve ride, comfort, handling and tread life.

Such breakthroughs are not limited to the ``Big Three'' tire makers. Other tire companies have their own stories to tell.

All are signs the industry is returning to financial health. With tire companies no longer preoccupied with cutting back, we look forward to more excitement in days to come.

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