LOUISVILLE, Ky.Add Pirelli to the already-crowded field of commercial tire brands competing for business with North America's trucking fleets and truckers.
Pirelli Tyre S.p.A. is field-testing a range of truck and bus tires engineered specifically for the U.S. and Canada that it expects to begin offering commercially later this yearperhaps by early in the third quarter in some specific SKUsaccording to Clif Armstrong, the former Continental Tire the Americas L.L.C. executive hired by Pirelli to head up its new subsidiary, TP Commercial Solutions L.L.C.
We have 1,800-plus tires mounted and running on more than 40 fleets cross the U.S. and Canada, Mr. Armstrong said, stressing that these are drive- and steer-axle positions on long-haul applications, which he considers the most demanding fitments.
These also require the longest testing periods in order to gather meaningful field data. As a result, he said he expects the first Pirelli-brand products to be commercially available will be some on-/off-road SKUs, with the long-haul products, including low-profile sizes, market-ready before year-end.
For Pirelli to make headway against the dozens of other brands active in this segment, it will be all about the brand, Mr. Armstrong said, stressing Pirelli's high-performance heritage and image as being engineering-driven. The commercial side of its business will follow in those footsteps, he said, targeting the premium segment.
To underscore his point, Mr. Armstrong said his first two hires for the business unit were field engineers.
Ultimately, in the truck world, if the product doesn't perform, you won't even be seen. We have big shoes to fill. The Pirelli consumer side is extremely well known,...very high tech-driven....
Pirelli's decision to expand its truck tire business to North America was made at the highest corporate level, based on the Italian company's belief that its commercial segment needed to be operating globally, not just regionally as it currently does, Mr. Armstrong and Dino Maggioni, CEO, the Americas for TP Industrial, Pirelli's global commercial unit, said during an interview with Tire Business at the recent Mid-America Trucking Show in Louisville.
The pair stressed that this decision was made before China National Chemical Corp. (ChemChina) started bidding for control of Pirelli, and the subsequent disclosure that ChemChina's and Pirelli's commercial businesses will be combined into a new entity.
Pirelli considered North America as a white spot in the Pirelli organization, Mr. Maggioni said, noting that Pirelli is among the market leaders in Latin America with 20-percent share30 percent in Brazilin truck and agricultural tires.
North American fleets have unique needs, which require unique designs, sizes and compounding to deliver the premium performance for which the Pirelli brands are known and respected, Mr. Armstong said.
Entering this market is no easy task, but with the strength of our future product portfolio coupled with the extensive research and development we are devoting to the project, we will provide North American fleets best-in-class cost performance and services.
Mr. Armstrong said Pirelli truck tires are known for their durability, casing and bead package integrity and retreadability, characteristics the company intends to carry over into the North American product range.
In addition to the fleet field testing, Pirelli already has conducted retread tests using buffed new casings to confirm compatibility with the existing retread systems prevalent in the U.S. and Canada. The company will offer a premium casing/retreading warranty.
Pirelli will source most of its truck tires for North America from plants in Santo Andre and Gravatai, Brazil, Mr. Maggioni said, although some sizes and types could come from other Pirelli plants. The company also produces truck tires at plants in China, Egypt and Turkey.
Messrs. Armstrong and Maggioni declined to quantify Pirelli's sales or market-share aspirations at this time. Mr. Armstrong said the launch is a three-year project, with year one devoted to product testing and evaluation. Year two will focus on building a network of dealers.
So why should dealers consider adding Pirelli to their brand mix?
No. 1, it's a recognizable brand, Mr. Armstrong said, but we also intend to offer dealers a value proposition, the ability to make a profit.... This will be a product that not everyone has, so those dealers who take it on first will enjoy some exclusivity.
There's a level of trust that we'll have to build.
Mr. Armstrong acknowledged that Pirelli won't, and can't, be in all markets right away, both from a product availability and distribution footprint aspect.
The company will be targeting solid, servicing commercial dealers who touch tires, those who build and maintain strong relationships with their customers.
Pirelli already sells truck tires in Mexico and Central America.
Over time, Pirelli expects to also introduce Pirelli-brand agricultural and industrial tires to the North American market, the two executives said, as well as bidding for OE business on the truck side.
We have to walk before we run, Mr. Armstrong stressed, but make no mistake about it, we will be fully engaged.
Prior to joining Pirelli, Mr. Armstrong amassed more than 20 years of commercial experience, including senior roles with Continental Tire's truck tire division. He is based at the tire maker's North American headquarters in Rome, Ga.
Commercial tires represent 20 percent of Pirelli's sales globally, or about $1.37 billion last year.
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