Effects on tire industry
Naturally what affects the trucking industry impacts the commercial truck tire industry, but global factors also impact the tire industry as well. In addition, many newsworthy events, to say the least, happened in 2006.
According to the Rubber Manufacturers Association (RMA), replacement commercial truck tire shipments will wind up 2 percent less than 2005 at 17.2 million units while original equipment (OE) commercial truck tires should reach 6.8 million units, a gain of nearly 9 percent or 560,000 units.
This of course is tied to the record sales of new trucks and trailers. The RMA predicted in August that tread rubber shipments would increase 1.7 percent through 2006-about the same growth rate as we saw in 2005-yielding about 16.4 million retreaded tires this year.
Of course, tire maker contracts with the United Steelworkers ran out this year and the one issue that continues to loom over the industry is the ongoing effect of the union's strike against Goodyear and residual effects on suppliers and dealerships that carry the company's brands.
But the surprising end-of-the-year news that shocked everyone was that Bridgestone Americas Holding Inc. has entered into an agreement to acquire the outstanding shares of Bandag Inc.'s stock in a deal valued at $1.05 billion. This will allow it to offer a complete tire solution to fleets as Goodyear and Michelin North America Inc. already do.
Ongoing price hikes
As a result of high costs in raw materials, energy and transportation, nearly all tire makers raised prices several times during 2006. And believe it or not, price hikes are sticking.
Michelin was the most aggressive, announcing at least five price hikes during the year although not all were on commercial truck tires. Goodyear, Kumho Tire U.S.A. Inc. and Toyo Tire (U.S.A.) Corp. raised prices three times and Bridgestone/Firestone, Continental, Hankook Tire America Corp. and Yokohama Tire Corp. had two price increases each.
Natural rubber (NR) was the raw material with the most price volatility this year.
Prices for NR hit a 12-year high this summer, rising 40 percent in a 60-day period. The unpredictable price of oil puts a triple whammy on tire production. It is not only a major ingredient in tire making, but it affects the cost to manufacture tires, the cost to heat or cool tire plants and the cost to ship tires both by truck and by sea.
The simultaneous global price increases in NR, crude oil, synthetic rubber and natural gas are unprecedented in the tire industry's history.
On the bright side, there were a lot of products introduced to the market.
Besides many new products added to their medium truck tire line ups, tire companies also announced some innovative technologies. Bridgestone has developed a tire that has three air chambers; should the main chamber be punctured the two on the sides are able to support the tire. Though this tire is not ready for prime time yet, who knows what a development like this will bring?
Goodyear introduced a line of fuel-efficient truck tires that feature its Fuel Max Technology, which also is offered in its UniCircle and precure retreads.
Michelin debuted an interesting technology in its XZA2 Antisplash tire that improves visibility for oncoming and overtaking motorists as well as the truck driver when driving in heavy rain. This tire purportedly reduces the splash trajectory height by more than 50 percent compared with standard truck tires.
Not to be left out of the pack, Sumitomo Rubber Industries Ltd. announced it has reduced the content of oil in a tire by 46 percent. This was in its passenger Dunlop ENASAVE ES801 tire, but who knows how long it will be until this technology makes it into truck tires?
On the retread side, besides introducing five tread designs that target specific truck applications, Cooper's Oliver Rubber subsidiary is offering new ultra-low profile (ULP) single-wide treads that feature Vdiplus, which acts as a visual depth indicator plus a stone ejector. Oliver also announced the development of a premium precure tread rubber that uses a proprietary rubber compound called ``Black Armor'' for use in its Vantage Drive tread rubber.
According to Cooper, this new compound not only promises excellent mileage but delivers 4 percent better fuel economy over competitors' ``best in class'' retreads.
This year Michelin introduced a technology that regenerates the tread pattern. The Michelin XDA Hypersipe retread uses a patented tread design and siping technology to mold tread features on both the top and bottom of a precure tread. Sipes molded into the bottom of the tread appear as the tire wears at approximately half of the tread depth and improve traction down to the last usable 32nd-inch.
Commercial tire companies also expanded their distribution channels significantly in 2006.
BFS purchased White Tire Inc. based in Roanoke, Va., which is one of North America's largest commercial tire dealerships. Bridgestone was selected by Volvo Trucks North America and by Mack Trucks as their standard tire supplier for new trucks sold in North America. But these events all pale in comparison to the tire maker's Bandag acquisition.
Michelin expanded its business relationship with Petro Stopping Centers, a major truck stop chain, by agreeing to supply BFGoodrich truck tires and Michelin Retread Technologies (MRT) retreads to the line of Michelin new truck tires already carried at Petro's 60 service centers in the U.S.
Not to be outdone, Goodyear signed an exclusive contract to develop and operate truck service centers at Pilot Travel Center locations. Pilot plans to open 13 new Truck Care Center locations soon.
Hankook finally got its foot in the door of the OE truck market. International Truck and Engine Corp. made Hankook tires standard on all International 4000 Series and International CF vehicles. This means Hankooks will be on all of these trucks except those that are spec' with another brand by the purchaser.
In Washington, not surprisingly, tire-related issues continued to grind along slowly. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration did not provide any inkling regarding revisions it will make to the Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard No. 119, which governs medium truck tires. It is still conducting truck tire tests in an effort to update requirements based on today's technology and current speeds and loads while maintaining a shroud of secrecy around the results.
Regarding the issue of usable tire age, the RMA conducted a study of 14,000 scrap tires and determined that treadwear was the most consistent determinant of a tire's service life rather than a tire's chronological age. Immediately, however, opponents took issue with the study-so the battle over this issue rages on.
Looking back over these events, you can say 2006 was one heck of a ride! You've got to wonder if 2007 can top this for excitement! Happy Holidays!