Despite the industry's best efforts, it's difficult to shake the common perception of a tire or a tire manufacturing plant.
The misconception starts and ends with the color black: A black product, manufactured using an environmentally unfriendly substance called carbon black, in a dank, dark facility.
As all of us know, that is far from the reality.
Today's tire industry, like many other industries that have a far better consumer reputation, is highly efficient, environmentally conscious, sustainability driven and technologically cutting-edge.
We would argue the tire is one of the most highly engineered products on the globe.
News breaks weekly that illustrates the industry's commitment to these high lofty standards. Just in the last few months, we learned:
• Michelin North America Inc. earned a SmartWay Excellence Award for outstanding environmental performance and leadership from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). The tire maker was one of 17 shipper and logistics companies to receive the recognition.
• Pirelli & C. S.p.A, Nokian Tyre P.L.C. and Hankook Tire & Technology Co. Ltd. were among tire manufacturers named in the latest Dow Jones Sustainability World and Europe Indexes, which is conducted annually by RobecoSam and S&P Dow Jones. Pirelli earned the top spot globally in the automobile and components sector with 85 points, nearly 50 points higher than the sector average of 36 points.
• Nokian called its 830,000-sq.-ft. plant in Dayton, Tenn. — which was inaugurated earlier this month — "one of the most advanced tire production facilities in the industry." The factory, the first North American plant for the Finnish tire maker, uses state-of-the-art manufacturing equipment as well as the latest and greatest hardware and software.
As part of the plant opening, Nokian officials emphasized that the plant will operate under strict sustainability standards to minimize waste and emissions. Solar panels capable of generating 3 megawatts of electricity will be installed in the parking lot, and the company will recycle excess materials that result from production.
These are but a few of the examples of tire makers not just talking the talk, but walking the walk of efficiency and sustainability. Most every tire maker, big and small, has devoted reams of resources to improving these very challenges.
Tire makers continue to push the bounds of technology, especially as it pertains to alternative substances for use in tires.
Goodyear, in fact, plans to replace petroleum-derived oils with soybean oil in its tires by 2040 and increase its soybean oil consumption 25% by 2020, as detailed in the company's most recent Corporate Responsibility Report.
The Akron-based tire maker said the green technology is more sustainable and can capture a growing section of consumers who factor environmental concerns into their buying decisions.
Most importantly, Goodyear said using soybean oil in the tire provides greater flexibility at lower temperatures, a perfect fit for production of all-weather tires.
These are just few examples of the ways the tire industry is working hard — perhaps leading the charge — to make a cleaner, more sustainable product.
While the manufacturers are quick to point out these advances — and rightfully so — dealers who sell these products not only should be aware of them, but also share that information repeatedly with customers.
It's going to take years to change the public's perception of the industry. But we think it can be done, one sale at a time.