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Published on July 31, 2000

Donīt spare the spare



DETROIT (July 31, 2000)—Chances are good that you and your friends have had no tire problems in the past decade.

Imagine how designers and engineers drool at the possibility of eliminating the spare tire. The biggest benefit would be packaging. And then there is the weight saving. It would be a revolution in the automobile business.

Itīs not often that a new technology can make an existing technology obsolete. The disc brake might be an example, although many vehicles still have rear drum brakes. Or how about the alternator? It didnīt take long before the old generator was simply a thing of the past.

Or maybe the 12-volt battery, which replaced the good old 6-volt battery and is about to be replaced because the demands of vehicle electrical systems require bigger batteries.

There have been some unsuccessful attempts to eliminate the spare tire. But now the heads of Goodyear and Group Michelin have agreed to set a global standard for run-flat tires. As a result, tire makers can approach car manufacturers with a run-flat tire that uses the same technology worldwide and can be manufactured and repaired anywhere.

But will the consumer accept a car with no spare tire? How long will it take to convince them that they simply donīt need a spare tire anymore—and that there is no reason to pay for one?

The popularity of roadside service already makes it unnecessary to offer a spare tire in many models. But it might be easier to eliminate the cigarette lighter than the spare tire. Most consumers already assume the cigarette lighter is nothing more than a plug for their telephone, but they may not have a use for the extra space in their trunks.

As technology jumps way ahead of consumer trust, the need for a spare tire will go away.

But how long will it take to convince consumers that they donīt need a spare? Perhaps car makers could make the spare tire an extra-cost option, although that might cause a small revolution.

At any rate, the spare tire just might disappear sooner than we think.

Mr. Crain is chairman of Crain Communications Inc.


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