They call their product Upheaval Tires and don't have their business plan set in stone yet, but their company's distinctive product-molded-in full-color sidewall graphics-attracted a steady stream of visitors throughout the four days of the recent Specialty Equipment Market Association (SEMA) Show.
Upheaval Tires is the marketing name given to a technology known as SideFx by its developers, TreadFx L.L.C. of St. Louis., a start-up firm involving five partners, including tire industry veterans Morton Hyman and Bill Bailey.
The idea was conceived by Eric Raskas, a St. Louis-based inventor who has applied for a patent on the process.
While the company is capable of molding tires at its own prototype plant in Mount Vernon, Wash., the firm's principals are pursuing a business model that likely would license tire makers to use the process in their existing factories, said Mr. Hyman, vice president, marketing for TreadFx.
At its booth at the SEMA Show, TreadFx had on display a handful of sidewall examples, including snakeskin, chain links, lightning, flames, paisley and animal skins.
``Theoretically, we could put just about any image on there you wanted us to,'' Mr. Hyman said, ``including photographs.''
For now, the company is buffing the sidewalls of tires it uses and applying the graphics in modified new-tire curing presses, according to Marvin Bozarth, the retread industry expert who is consulting with TreadFx on the project.
In order to allow for the maximum effect of a full-color patterned or picture sidewall, the sidewall ideally would be void of markings, Mr. Hyman said.
According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), there is only one bit of information that has to be visible on the ``intended outboard'' sidewall-the tire identification number (TIN), consisting of the tire manufacturer's alphanumeric Department of Transportation-issued identification mark, the tire size, the brand name owner (if different from the manufacturer) and the week and year of manufacture.
The TIN information must be in letters or numbers at least ¼-inch high, NHTSA documents show.
If TreadFx chooses to make the tires itself, the company would have to remold the obligatory sidewall information onto a narrow strip between the top of the graphic and the edge of the tread, Mr. Hyman said. The prototypes made for displaying at the SEMA Show were cured at 300 degrees F for 20 minutes, Mr. Bozarth said.
If a tire maker used the process, he said, it could design molds to accommodate this change and leave the sidewall free for the graphic design.
Theoretically, Mr. Hyman said, the process would allow the licensee to make tires in colors that matched the vehicle's color scheme or those of a sports team.
At this point, it's too early to discuss the cost of making the tires, Mr. Hyman said.
In addition to his involvement with TreadFx, Mr. Hyman is a partner in Sutong China Tire Resources Inc., the importer of Long March tires from China, and was a tire wholesaler in the St. Louis area for decades. Mr. Bailey operated Bailey's for Tires, a truck tire retreader in Mount Vernon.