WASHINGTON-The death of the federal government's Qualified Products List-once thought to be a tragedy for retreaders seeking inclusion in government tire procurement-now may prove to be retreaders' greatest opportunity.
The bottom line is that retreaders now may go out and solicit General Services Administration fleet buyers directly for business, just like any other customer. Buyers, in turn, may now go out, credit card in hand, to buy any tires that fit their needs.
There are literally thousands of purchasing points for tires within the GSA, and the agency will help educate retreaders on where and how to approach them, according to Dana F. Arnold, deputy chief of staff for the White House Task Force on Recycling.
Ms. Arnold and Harvey Brodsky, managing director of the Tire Retread Information Bureau, led a meeting in Washington Dec. 10 to discuss ways of maximizing government retread procurement.
While there was bad news at the conference-such as continued resistance to retreads by some government fleet buyers and some reports of retread failures in extreme off-road situations-the total picture was overwhelmingly positive, according to Mr. Brodsky.
``We're ecstatic,'' he said. ``From what I heard at the meeting, it will be very easy for our members to do business with the government.''
The key to the success of retreads in government procurement, according to Mr. Brodsky and others who attended the meeting, is for retreaders to move from a ``transactional'' to a ``relationship'' footing with GSA fleet buyers.
``We're looking forward to entering into a pretty nice relationship with these folks,'' said Mark Gelbman, Maryland general manager for Merchant's Total Fleet Care Centers in Landover, Md.
Besides Mr. Gelbman, representatives of Goodyear, Bandag Inc., Oliver Rubber Co., Michelin North America Inc. and other major retreading industry companies also attended the Dec. 10 meeting, as did Kenneth L. Collings of the GSA Fleet Operations Division.
Federal tire buyers have had a directive to maximize retread purchases since 1988, when the Environmental Protection Agency officially defined retreads as a recycled product. An executive order from President Clinton in 1993 reinforced that mandate.
To assure the quality of retreads acquired by the government, the GSA, in consultation with the retreading industry, developed the Quality Assurance Facility Inspection Program for retread facilities. The QAFIP determined which retread facilities' products would be included on the QPL.
However, both the program and the list died Dec. 31, 1996, because the GSA decided that too few fleet buyers were using them to justify their continued existence.
At the time, the retreading industry mourned the loss of the QPL and QAFIP, on the grounds that government buyers would have no guideline except price for retread procurement and thus end up buying inferior products. However, the greater flexibility for both retreaders-who no longer have to perform extensive tire testing or certification paperwork-and government buyers may now facilitate business between the two.
Team Tire at the U.S. Army Tank-Automotive & Armaments Command in 1998 established its own Cooperative Tire Qualification Program and Cooperative Approved Tire List to replace the QPL and QAFIP. In 1999, Team Tire won an award from the Clinton administration for its efforts in promoting recycling.
However, the GSA isn't bound to use the Team Tire program, and it won't, according to Mr. Collings.
``We'll buy retreads like any commercial trucker would,'' said Mr. Collings, an early supporter of retread procurement when he headed the former GSA Federal Tire Program. ``It's up to retreaders to contact government buyers and maintain quality.''
The reported failure of retreads in off-road applications is particularly distressing at this point for retreaders, just at the time when retreaders are poised to make a big pitch for their products to government buyers.
``Every time we have a tire failure out there, it's a black eye for us,'' Mr. Collings said. ``The buyer isn't a tire forensics expert; he's not going to know the reason for the failure. All he knows is that it's a retread.''
Details of the off-road retread failures, which occurred in the Northwest, are still sketchy, according to Ms. Arnold.
``We've heard a couple of reports about underinflation, but we don't know if they even had the right tires for the application,'' she said. Nevertheless, ``when there is a problem like that, industry people need to come out immediately'' to investigate and to talk to the fleet buyers, she added.
``There may be certain applications retreaders shouldn't try for'' in government acquisition, said Mr. Brodsky, who has gone out himself to investigate the off-road failures. ``The rocks on some of these roads, it's like picking up razor blades. No tire can survive in that terrain.''
It's also unlikely there will be many government purchases of passenger retreads, according to Mr. Collings.
``Although there are passenger retreaders out there, most of their tires are not as cost-effective as new tires,'' he said. ``If I were a retreader, I would concentrate on light truck tires. Two-thirds of the GSA fleet is light trucks. Some complain that the new light truck tires in the GSA fleet are P-metric, but that doesn't mean you can't replace them with LT retreads.''
Meanwhile, the government is making substantial efforts to reach out to retreaders. Mr. Gelbman said Ms. Arnold invited him to represent retreaders at a Feb. 14 meeting of the task force, and Mr. Collings will set a date in January for local GSA representatives to visit the Merchant's retreading facility in Manassas, Va.
Since the QPL and QAFIP lapsed at the end of 1996, Mr. Brodsky has held numerous seminars around the U.S. and met with various government officials to promote government procurement of retreads. Besides the military, the U.S. Postal Service and Park Service are major purchasers of retreads, and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration has also started buying retreads for non-emergency vehicles.