India’s tyre industry is steadily coming of age. In a country whose new car market has witnessed phenomenal changes since the days when consumer choice was more or less restricted to what colour Hindustan Ambassador one would purchase, the tyres made and sold have also needed to change with the times, both in quantity and quality.
Figures released by India’s Automotive Tyre Manufacturers Association (ATMA) report steady growth in tyre production figures across all market segments, with an overall 12 per cent growth to January 2007, with approximately 61 million tyres produced during the preceding 12 months. During February 2007 alone 5.9 million tyres were produced, with 1.18 million of these for passenger cars. And although other segments showed even greater growth – tractor tyre sales in February were on average more than 25 per cent greater than a year earlier – the passenger car market seems to be where all the action is taking place.
With global carmakers moving into India (such as BMW, who recently opened a factory in Chennai), the demand for high quality state-of-the-art tyres is greater than ever. India is moving away from obsolete cross-ply technology and embracing the 21st century.
Continental, Kumho, Michelin and Pirelli are but four tyremakers vying to enter the Indian market, and long-established giant Goodyear has introduced a premium range of tyres intended for upmarket marques such as Audi, BMW and Mercedes. These new tyres, known as the ‘Excellence’ range, are available in 10 sizes between 15 and 17-inch and feature an asymmetrical tread, 3-zone design and silica compound. And as more Indians trade in their Ambassadors for world-class Indian produced vehicles, tyres such as the Excellence will become the norm.
And local tyremakers are determined not to be left out of the race. JK Industries, a strong supporter of Indian motorsport, has become the first Indian manufacturer to produce ‘formula tyres’ for the racing circuit. A research team at JK took a year to develop this new tyre, which the company is considering exporting to a number of Asian markets. Rival Apollo Tyres, having acquired the Dunlop South Africa facilities, is now planning to use its acquisition to produce premium quality tyres. Last November the company introduced their first W-rated tyre, the Aspire.
Also changing is official attitudes towards safety standards. While Indian tyremakers have in the past not been hindered by government regulations outlining acceptable levels of quality, the government is now taking measures to see the Bureau of Indian Standards’ ISI certification enforced. Should ISI become mandatory, and it most likely will, only tyremakers who have become ISI certified will be eligible to sell their products on the Indian market, a move that is seen as a burden for local vehicle manufacturers but a boon for India’s tyre manufacturers.