As you read in the March 29 issue of Tire Business, The Maintenance Council of the American Trucking Associations held its annual meeting last month and many high-profile issues were addressed that dealt with tires. The most important was a report from the council's Tire Debris Prevention Task Force that released the results of the tire road debris study it conducted again last summer.
The report also provided details of the test the task force will be running with the National Highway Traffic and Safety Administration to determine the effects of underinflation and speed on truck tires.
The task force also presented an update on its work to improve tire maintenance and reduce rubber debris on the road.
In addition, the council was informed of the latest activities by safety advocates to restrict and regulate truck-tire retreads.
Many fleet and retread-industry representatives left the meeting feeling that truck-tire retreading is in great jeopardy. Quite frankly, I am inclined to agree with them.
The tire debris survey conducted in 1998 had some interesting revelations. Of particular interest was that the number of tires examined in 1998 was 28 percent higher than in 1995.
This can be accounted for by the huge increase in failures in Texas (+466 percent) and Nevada (+283 percent), undoubtedly affected by the record temperatures that occurred in the Southwest for most of last summer. If these two locations had been dropped from the survey, the amount of debris would have remained about the same.
In other respects, the 1998 survey was almost a mirror image of the survey conducted on tire road debris in 1995. The vast majority of tires—86 percent in 1998 and 90 percent in 1995—failed due to underinflation.
In 1998, 71 percent were rib tires; in 1995, 74 percent were rib tires.
Of note is that failures due to bad repairs declined significantly, from 10 percent in 1995 to 4 percent in 1998. On the other hand, failures associated with manufacturing were up from 5 percent in 1995 to 8 percent in 1998.
However, the percentage of tires that had been retreaded remained essentially the same: 87 percent in 1995; 85 percent in 1998.
One fleet manager asked, ``Doesn't this make a case for not using retreads?'' The answer, of course, is no.
It makes a case for taking better care of tires—especially trailer tires, which are notoriously neglected and subjected to more than their share of road hazards. They account for more than 70 percent of the on-road tire failures.
But to the average ``Joe'' motoring down the highway and dodging strips of tread and belt package that he perceives are the result of ``cheap retreads,'' these surveys easily can be misinterpreted, and the data can readily be manipulated by the foes of retreading.
Citizens for Reliable and Safe Highways (CRASH), which last fall spawned a flurry of articles calling for restrictions and regulations on truck-tire retreads, most recently has waged an attack on commercial tire retreads through the legislature of the Commonwealth of Virginia.
In February, Virginia's legislature passed a bill ordering the state police to study the need for state standards for retreads. (This should be the start of something really interesting.)
Since then, CRASH has been relatively quiet on the subject of retreading, since its attention has been directed at attacking the trucking industry as a whole. CRASH appeared at hearings of the U.S. House Ground Transportation Subcommittee in March in an effort to get trucking oversight transferred from the Office of Motor Carriers to NHTSA.
However, after hearings April 14-16 at the National Transportation Safety Board on truck and bus safety—at which CRASH figured to make an impact—it will, no doubt, stir up more trouble in the truck-tire retread area.
The issue of repealing the Federal Excise Tax (FET) on new truck tires may be raised again by a couple of tire-industry organizations that would like the excise tax replaced with tax credits for retreads. If this is true, the timing of their effort couldn't be worse.
If CRASH is successful with its campaign against retreading, it is probable that we could see restrictions on the age of casings and the number of times they can be retreaded, regulations on retread procedures and requirements for retread testing.
These regulations will open up litigation opportunities for truck-chasing lawyers and will result in higher costs for retreads.
When CRASH sees the proposal to Congress to repeal the FET on new truck tires, it will back it 100 percent. What a great way to rid the world of truck-tire retreading!
With the higher cost of retreading that CRASH now is working to create, if the cost advantage provided by the FET also is eliminated, there will be no incentive whatsoever for fleets to buy retreads.
Regardless of your opinion of tax credits or whether you really believe fleets will actually get these credits, the bottom line is that the fleet purchaser is going to carefully weigh the cash outlay of new tires vs. retreads.
The fleet maintenance manager or purchasing manager does not file the fleet's income taxes, so he doesn't care about tax credits. If the price difference between new tires and retreads is narrowed appreciably, new tires will be purchased.
Now you can argue that the new-tire industry cannot supply all the new tires needed if retreading were abandoned, so retreading would have to stay around at least until new-tire production capacity could be expanded. That's true.
But the bottom line from the fleet standpoint is that both new and retreaded tire costs will go up. And the truth of the matter is: Truck tire retreading will decline just as passenger retreading has—and commercial-tire retreaders will go out of business.
I heard some people say when the FET issue was raised last year that they were proposing it to help their fleet customers. I personally do not believe that fleets will see this as ``help'' if their arch nemesis, CRASH, is supporting this issue and it results in increasing their overall tire costs.
The Maintenance Council, as part of the American Trucking Associations, is going to fight hard to improve tire maintenance, reduce road debris and educate legislators about the real cause of tire debris in order to safeguard the ability of fleets to minimize tire costs.
If the trucking industry feels this way, don't you think it is about time the retread industry did? After all, it's your survival that's at stake here, not just some operating cost that is being threatened with increases.
Now is the time for the tire and retread industries, which include manufacturers as well as dealers, to unite in solidarity. It is time to take action.
Develop a strategy that takes into consideration the impact of all the forces that are taking shape in the tire, retread and trucking industries.
Formulate a plan to launch a well-funded counterattack against those who threaten the well-being of the members of our industry community and support those who will benefit them.
Ideally, tire-industry associations should be doing this. After all, they represent the tire companies, retread companies, commercial tire dealers and retreaders in this country.
If you belong to an industry association, let it know how you feel about the current attack on retreading and about repealing the FET on new truck tires.
If you are not a member, your opinion will not be heard, so join an association and let it know how you feel. Write letters. Call. Heck, go ahead and scream for that matter.
While you're at it, send a contribution to the Tire Retread Information Bureau, which is feverishly sending retread information packets and videos out to legislators and newspapers around the country in a pro-active effort to thwart media attacks before they occur.
This could be the retread industry's Armageddon, where the last decisive battle for survival will be fought. I'd advise you to stock your war chests and prepare for a major offensive.