AKRON (Sept. 29, 2014) — While tires will continue to improve and get more dynamic, the same can't be said at this juncture for the gridlock the U.S. government is experiencing.
That was the message James Hawk, chairman of Toyo Tire Holdings of Americas Inc., delivered in his keynote address at the International Tire Exhibition & Conference for Tire Manufacturing (ITEC), held recently in Akron.
The 40-year tire industry veteran who oversees Toyo's only tire manufacturing operation in the U.S., located in White, Ga., said companies can stand out by showcasing reliability and safety. And to do that, tire manufacturers must invest in research and development.
“We've seen so many competitors come into our market because it's the largest consumer market in the world,” said Mr. Hawk, who in 2013 was named the Rubber Industry Executive of the Year by Rubber & Plastics News, an Akron-based sister publication of Tire Business. “So what we need to do as on-shore U.S. manufacturers is be able to sell the difference. Sell our technology and not give our consumers a reason to buy some of these less expensive imports.”
Research focusing on technology and material science is very significant and ultimately is the key to success in the tire industry, Mr. Hawk told attendees of ITEC, which was held Sept. 9-11 in Akron. Today, material science is broken apart all the way down to the molecular and nano-technology level. With automotive original equipment manufacturers pushing new standards constantly, that research will only become more important.
One example Mr. Hawk cited is fuel economy initiatives. Car companies have their agenda from the federal government that trickles down to tire manufacturers. That is true particularly for new hybrid models.
Mr. Hawk said rolling resistance standards are coming and already are implemented in Europe. The Rubber Manufacturers Association (RMA) — of which Toyo is a member — is trying to get ahead of the impending standards by aligning itself with the European standards, thus avoiding a scenario where companies would have to do double testing.
Mr. Hawk is confident the U.S. government and the RMA will work out an effective set of standards, and that there is a fair chance the standards will be aligned with Europe's.
“Rolling resistance is a major, major criteria now, and it's not just throwing silica or sand in the treads,” Mr. Hawk said. “It's element analysis, mold shapes and designs at the molecular level. That's a lot of good work that's going on in our industry, and it will pay off in better fuel mileage.
“The last thing we want is for the U.S. to come up with a new standard, and now we're testing to a Euro standard and a U.S. standard. We're working to get some alignment with our federal government with the European standards so we only have to do it once. We know it's coming.”
Mr. Hawk said the RMA has been an important voice in ensuring the industry is heard in Washington, D.C.. He commended the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) for its recent position on tire service life, saying there is not enough science and technology to predict aging of tires.