Wholesalers Group chair outlines concerns with ETRMA
The ears of the European Tyre & Rubber Manufacturers Association must have been rather warm as Ashley Croft, chairman of the Tyre Wholesalers Group of the NTDA, gave his speech at the group's annual lunch. Around 75 people – customers and suppliers – attended the event on 22 November at the National Motorcycle Museum and, as well as lunch, there was plenty of food for thought, particularly for manufacturers of premium brands.
Ashley Croft began by saying that many of the topics in his speech the previous year are still relevant today; notably the move away from premium brands, due in some part to their poor availability, concerns over the economy and the heavy promotion of winter tyres.
2011, he said, has been a tough year, with a decline following what was a buoyant start. The dry weather has encouraged some motorists to delay the purchase of replacement tyres, to the extent that some 60 per cent of tyres removed at the time of replacement are illegal – a clear case for more vigorous enforcement of the tread depth laws.
Croft was encouraged at the efforts made by many to educate the public about the benefits of winter tyres, but concerned that the warm weather might disrupt this momentum. He had concerns too regarding the supply of winter tyres, saying that many tyre manufacturers had said that any increase in volume “would have to come from your total allocation”. Given this approach, asked Croft, how can we grow this segment, adding: “Indeed, how can we grow premium business at all? The premium brand share of market has declined again this year – it really is time the UK market was supported more strongly from premium brand suppliers.”
Croft said that, at the TIF, they have had difficulty defining exactly what makes a ‘premium brand’ and pointed to a tyre test carried out by the Finnish firm Test Oy, in which Linglong, a brand from China, came fourth. “It could well be that some unexpected names would appear in a ‘new’ or revised brand tiering list!” he commented.
Concerns with ETRMA
Ashley Croft then turned his attention to ETRMA, saying that, as a wholesaler, he had a “significant concern”. He was quick to emphasise that, in the UK, wholesalers had a good relationship with the BTMA, based on mutual respect.
ETRMA, however, has been very vocal in asking for “a level playing field”, but Croft posed the question whether or not they were in fact erecting trade barriers? Recent and coming tyre legislation – S marking, PAH reduction and tyre labelling – were, he suggested, all EU-specific and pushed by the ETRTO, heavily influenced by ETRMA. The industry group CARS 21, of which ETRMA is an active member, has as one of its objectives “the harmonisation of measures (eg test procedures) to improve market access worldwide and reduce costs”. Asked Croft: “How does this sit with the reality of EU-specific legislation, generating cost barriers that do not exist in world markets?”
A recent ETRMA press release raised concerns about non-PAH compliant tyres being sold in the EU, portraying them as a safety hazard. Croft suggested that the high percentage of illegal tyres on the road and the fact that up to 90 per cent of part worn tyres do not comply with current legislation are more pressing safety concerns than PAH compliance – particularly when TWG members are carrying out compliance tests themselves.
Invisible trade barrier
Goodyear Dunlop held a ‘Road Safety Day’ event in Luxembourg, explaining the benefits of forthcoming tyre labelling legislation, saying that the label could demonstrate to motorists that stopping distances on wet roads could be reduced by up to four car lengths. If this is so important, asked Croft, why were so many members of ETRMA unsupportive of the 3mm awareness campaign, in which independent test data produced exactly the same results?
He had concerns too about the lack of testing facilities and the fact that the reference tyre used for testing was changed at a late date from a 14″ to a 16″ tyre. This late change means that many tyres will not be tested in time for next November’s deadline and, while they could still be sold in Europe, they would have to carry a ‘G’ classification in the untested areas – a distinct marketing handicap.
Croft went on to say that he, and indeed the TWG, wholeheartedly support tyre labelling as a means of keeping the consumer better informed, but his worry is whether we are seeing an invisible trade barrier, caused by restricted availability of testing equipment. He concluded his speech thus: “To claim the label under a banner of ‘road safety’ is disingenuous against the background of non-support for other tyre safety initiatives such as the 3mm campaign. The additional cost to importing tyres to Europe from the Far East flies in the face of the objectives of CARS 21. The level playing field so eagerly desired by the ETRMA has, I believe, just been tilted significantly in their favour.”
There may be some who might think it unfair to criticise without giving the right of reply, but this was in fact extended to ETRMA. Ex- president Dr. Francesco Gori was invited to attend the function as principal guest, but was unable to attend. Another board member was named in his place, but unfortunately a last-minute diary clash made this impossible. Explaining this, Ashley Croft said that “We fully understand the business pressures on senior executives and certainly no criticism is implied, but it would have been interesting to hear their perspective on this market first hand.”
Reviewing the speech, the ETRMA representative might be forgiven for feeling that he had had a lucky escape!