Retreading, a business with an illustrious past, has an equally bright future, according to two retreading experts at the Clemson Tire Industry Conference March 9-11 on Hilton Head Island.
``Nine in 10 of the top truck fleets in this country retread,'' said Joseph Zekoski, director of retread systems for Goodyear. ``I would say, `What's wrong with that last one?' The casing of a radial truck tire is an investment, and the only way you get a return is to retread it.''
Radialization, which seriously undermined the passenger retreading market, was a boon to the truck tire retreading market, according to Mr. Zekoski. ``It gave us a platform to build on,'' he said. ``Casings lasted longer, and you got more retreads out of them.''
The original equipment truck tire market in the U.S. is now almost totally radial-99.8 percent, according to Mr. Zekoski-and the replacement market is 91.6-percent radial. Some 16.1 million casings were retreaded last year, he added, and about 39 percent of all wheel positions on truck fleets were occupied by retreads, compared with 46 percent replacement new tires and 15 percent OE new tires.
``Retreading also offers a recycling benefit,'' Mr. Zekoski said. ``Last year, because of retreading, there were 16.1 million fewer casings ready for disposal.''
The one fleet in 10 that still resists retreads, he added, probably does so because too many fleet managers still believe a common myth.
``They see rubber on the road and think, `Darn retreaders don't know how to put a cap on a casing,''' he said. He cited studies from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, the American Trucking Associations' Technology and Maintenance Council (TMC) and other sources that identified underinflation as the cause of tire debris in more than 90 percent of all cases.
The TMC study, Mr. Zekoski noted, said that only 43 percent of truck tires are within 5 psi of their manufacturer-specified inflation pressures. Twenty-two percent of vehicles have at least one tire underinflated by more than 20 psi, and 4 percent have at least one tire more than 50 psi underinflated, he said.
Both retread facilities and truck fleets are consolidating in the U.S., with fewer and bigger entities on both sides, Mr. Zekoski noted. ``The retreaders that survive are the ones that will become sophisticated manufacturing centers,'' he said. ``In the foreseeable future, retreads will continue to be integrated with the total wheel position program to fleets.''
Meanwhile, reports of the death of passenger retreading are greatly exaggerated, according to Jeff Barlow, president of Green Diamond North America in Elmira, N.Y.
Mr. Barlow-whose family business, Twin Tier Tire in Elmira, has sold the Iceland-designed Green Diamond remanufactured snow tires since 1999-in mid-February opened a Green Diamond plant in his hometown with an annual capacity of 30,000 tires.
The retread industry, according to Mr. Barlow, began with passenger retreading during the Great Depression. ``An inexpensive alternative to a new tire was desirable, and tread rubber was inexpensive in the Depression,'' he said. ``Roads and tires had become good enough by then that you could wear out a tire. Before that, you blew out tires.''
World War II provided the greatest impetus to passenger retreading, Mr. Barlow said. ``Rationing was a part of life, and it was almost impossible for a civilian to buy a new tire,'' he said, adding that passenger retreading grew 500 percent between 1942 and 1944.
Unfortunately, early failed experiments with synthetic rubber treads during the war gave retreads a bad name they're still trying to live down, he said. Passenger tire retreading reached its peak in the 1950s with more than 12,000 retreaders in the U.S. by 1959.
But industry consolidation reduced that number to 4,800 by 1969, Mr. Barlow said.
Shortly thereafter, he added, came the real cause for the decline of the passenger retread industry: passenger radials, which were cost-competitive with retreads, lasted much longer than bias tires and required P-metric sizes, which retreaders were unequipped to deal with.
``Who came up with the idea that a tire should last 80,000 miles?'' he asked. ``For a tire seller, that's not a good idea, and the tires are still $49.95!''
The upshot, according to Mr. Barlow, was that passenger tire retreading declined to 13 million units in 1990 from 25 million in 1980.
Twin Tier Tire continued in the passenger tire retreading business, but gaining a distributorship for the Green Diamond brand was a real boost to the company's fortunes. He said he established the factory just to ensure a sufficient supply of the remanufactured snow tires to meet demand.