“Two Fundamental Trends will Drive the Industry”
During a presentation at the Geneva Motor Show, Goodyear Dunlop’s Michel Rzonzef referred to recent societal changes and evolving consumer needs as an “opportunity for companies like Goodyear Dunlop to do what we have been doing over the last one hundred years, to be at the forefront of the industry, to drive innovation and drive change.” This innovation and change, the EMEA business unit’s president for Eastern Europe, the Middle East and Africa said, will come through the development and introduction of new products that focus on two key areas.
“In 2009 alone we have introduced 62 new products,” stated Rzonzef. “Which is even more than the 50 we targeted. So [we have] a very strong focus on new products, and this is really how we think that we have set a base for a very strong business looking forward as the economy recovers. Looking at the future, we see two fundamental trends that will drive technology and the industry – the first one is definitely the environment. Governments accelerate a focus on this and consumers start raising awareness on it and all stakeholders have to take responsibility on it.”
Elaborating on the key environmental issues the industry faces, Rzonzef noted that road transportation accounts for almost 50 per cent of total global oil consumption. “That’s a huge number. And it is interesting to see the continued effort driven by the automotive industry to improve that. Look at all the concepts you see here (at the Geneva Motor Show): fuel efficiency programmes on traditional vehicles, the hybrid vehicles or electric vehicles – a lot of breakthroughs that are aimed at reducing fuel consumption. Of course, the tyre industry has a responsibility in this also. We all know that [reducing] rolling resistance can help reduce fuel consumption, but also the new trend in electric vehicles is going to set a new set of parameters of performance for tyres. And this is really where Goodyear and Dunlop have answers.” On display at the show is a prototype ultra low rolling resistance version of Goodyear’s EfficientGrip specifically intended for fitment on electric vehicles. According to Philippe Degeer, vice president of Goodyear Dunlop Tires Operations, the tyre delivers “absolutely impressive” performance results.
Another such ‘answer’ taking centre stage on Goodyear’s stand in Geneva is the company’s latest generation RunOnFlat tyres. The manufacturer reports that, compared with previous generations, the new run-flat has reduced mass and tests show a 13 per cent lower rolling resistance in comparison to standard tyres, even though the new product is said to offer comparable levels of comfort. Goodyear sold more than two million of its RunOnFlat tyres last year.
“Besides environment, the second key trend that will drive the industry is going to be road safety,” Rzonzef continued. “We can see that, over the last ten years, there has been a continued focus on road safety and major breakthroughs. This being said, year after year, we still count around 40,000 casualties in road accidents every year. This is a significant number. A different way of looking at it is that we can expect over a lifetime a one in three likelihood of having an accident on the road…So it is very important that the tyre industry amongst others focuses on safety. And that is why at Goodyear we are constantly pushing to focus on aspects like wet grip, which is a key driver to bringing safety benefits on roads.” Safety initiatives also involve participating with programmes operating within our region: “Goodyear is very much involved in the European Safety Charter, we are a key member of the board and we have a lot of additional programming awareness which are lined up for 2010,” added Rzonzef.
Paying attention to the growing consumer emphasis upon these two factors can pay dividends, Michelin Rzonzef believes. “With road safety and environment at the core focus of all of us, it’s really the opportunity for the tyre industry to capitalise on the opportunities that both offer. This requires a clear corporate vision and an innovative product pipeline to bring innovation, to bring products that will bring changeable development both on wet performance but also on rolling resistance. At Goodyear Dunlop we have the vision, we have the plans, we have the capability to bring this.”
The introduction of tyre labelling in 2012 – a move intended to raise consumer awareness of both safety and environmental considerations – will, in Rzonzef’s opinion, give tyre manufacturers new incentive to up the ante. “We believe the new label, as it comes into force in November 2012, will help guide the consumer towards safer, more fuel efficient tyres by using objective, industry endorsed performance and selection parameters,” he observed. “At the same time, it’s true that the targets the European Commission has set for the ratings from A to G are extremely ambitious. The test methodologies have not been finalised yet, but we can expect that many tyres in the marketplace might fall in the lower end of the performance range and not the top end.”
The upcoming label displays a decibel rating for tyre noise and an A to G rating for fuel efficiency and wet grip, with A the most desirable classification – and one Rzonzef considers unobtainable for many tyres currently on the market. “It’s going to be an interesting challenge to explain to the consumer why this is different from what’s happening in other industries, like the whitegoods industry,” the regional president commented. “It’s going to be an interesting challenge in terms of communication, but a fantastic opportunity for the industry. Why? Because it will enable the industry to bring innovation and new technologies that will raise the bar, bring new products that are going to be in the rating performance of A and B, which is exactly what Goodyear is doing now.”
As Rzonzef stated, Goodyear Dunlop’s focus on new products will give the company a basis to strengthen its business as the economy picks up. Indeed, he reported that the eight per cent growth in unit volume during the fourth quarter of 2009 was attributable to measured gains for the company in the marketplace as well as industry growth as a whole. Net income for the region was US$107 during the three-month period, numbers he considers “very strong” and a reflection of the business’s strengths. “At Goodyear we look at the future with confidence. We believe that we are well positioned to take on these new challenges,” said Rzonzef in conclusion. “We do have the technology. We do have the expertise to lead. This is what we’ve been doing and this is what we’ll continue doing.