Comment: Explosive action – a life lesson for tyre buying consumers?
To say that June was an interesting month for the tyre industry is something of an understatement. It was explosive – and in at least one case literally so. But the drama of it all offers consumers a challenging life lesson.
Of course Apollo Tyres’ agreement to purchase Cooper Tire & Rubber for US$2.6 billion is one of the biggest changes at the top of the global tyre market for more than a decade, with the smaller Indian manufacturer acquiring the larger and longer established US firm. In the process a company ranking seventh in the world is expected to be formed in a move that will have global repercussions for some time (see “Cooper acquisition is a game-changer – Apollo MD talks to T&A” for exclusive coverage and in-depth analysis of this news). At the same time, and closer to home, certain directorial appointments in the UK wholesale business mark both the end of one era and the beginning of another, with the balance of national wholesale power shifting. But neither development are what we are focusing on here.
This takes us to the literally explosive British grand prix with its five or six complete tyre failures (team sources report that even more were on the verge of going), most of which seem to have coincided with turn four of the Silverstone course. The negative headlines associated with Silverstone must have some at Pirelli prayerfully repeating the “all publicity is good publicity” mantra while the latest Formula One tyre storm blows over (the motorsport section of July’s T&A features first hand reporting of all the action from Silverstone), is there a hidden message for the tyre business at large?
For the tyre industry as a whole we can take the optimistic view that the striking image of a disintegrating race tyre or two raises the profile of tyre awareness and the need for tyres that are fit for purpose in general. Whatever went wrong at Silverstone, Pirelli remains a high performance tyre specialist with its factories routinely producing millions of tyres for some of the highest performing road vehicles in the world without any trouble at all. Remember it wasn’t so long ago that Michelin experienced similarly and arguably worse negative publicity at the ill-fated 2005 US grand prix. Eight years later no-one is suggesting that incident had any material long-term effect to the company’s global performance or on its product or OE reputation.
What this incident does point to is the precise importance of having the right tyres for the job. If indeed the Silverstone punctures were produced by a sharper than expected one-inch concrete lip at turn four as has been suggested, it is not the case that Pirelli is unable to produce tyres that can deal with adverse conditions. Just think of the hundreds of thousands of premium 4×4 tyres the company churns out at the firm’s Dalton Road, Carlisle plant each year destined for Land Rover. And with many top range 4x4s never riding on anything other than tarmac it’s not a question of speed either. No it’s just that F1 tyres are expected to take corners like turn four faster (220+ km/h) than the landing speed of a jet plan and slide sideways across a raise lip, while at the same time gripping, offering interstellar g-force support and providing entertaining racing for all involved.
My general point is nothing to do with F1 in particular and everything to do with the importance of quality and application in general. Seeing tyres explode as they did during the grand prix weekend is good for the British public because it forces them to recognise that even some of the highest technology products available are far from indestructible. Factor that down to those consumers who are buying part worn tyres with no discernible compliance or provenance and low-cost products that barely attain labelling standards and hopefully such graphic images will make them think twice about what they fit to their car.