Bridgestone responding to ‘evolving’ UK truck tyre market
A leading player in the UK commercial vehicle tyre market, Bridgestone is about to embark on what it says is “the most important product launch from Bridgestone for many years”, when it introduces a new, user-friendly naming protocol for its line of regional TBRs. Product and marketing manager Andy Mathias spoke to Tyrepress about the questions currently posed by the UK CV tyre market, the manufacturer’s new tyres, and why he believes its “true fleet tyre solution offer” will continue to provide “compelling business opportunities” in the truck market.
One aspect of the UK market that appears rather bleak is the bare fact of decreased fleet mileage. The distance travelled by “HGV fleets on UK roads has fallen by 15 per cent since 2007, or pre-recession levels, and this obviously has an impact on the tyre demand,” Mathias said. Having said that, Mathias believes the recent move into positive figures – albeit low ones – by UK GDP has seen some “business confidence” return. Mathias continues: “positive UK GDP growth in 2013 has seen demand for European manufacturers’ new tyre products increase by more than 10 per cent versus previous year in 2013. Bridgestone has outperformed this increase in demand, and our market share is returning to pre-recession levels in the UK.”
The same cannot be said for retread product demand, which Mathias explains “has fallen slightly versus previous year.” Of course, this has been somewhat a victim of the slow recent years for the market, as this has naturally affected the “availability of casings”. Having said that, “Bridgestone (through the Bandag franchises and the hot retread production facility in Bourne) has managed to hold on to the strong market share it has built up since purchasing the Bandag organisation,” Mathias says. Overall, he says that “around one in four truck tyres sold in the UK and Ireland during the first half of 2013 was a Bridgestone or Bandag product.”
Another challenge for retreads, given the price point, and to all established tyre manufacturers is truck tyre brand congestion in the UK, since all of the major brands are present, while some budget brands “use the UK as their entry in to the European market”.
“The UK market is also more sophisticated than many other territories in Europe,” Mathias says, “with truck fleets demanding a complete tyre and service solution to include multiple tyre lives. Fleet operators are operating at very tight margins, so reduced downtime and fuel costs are at the top of their wish lists. Tyre dealers also need reliable products that they can sell on to their fleet customers with confidence.” Having said that, dealers too are seeking ways to be as cost effective as possible: “Dealers are also reducing their stock holding, so they are helped by Bridgestone’s policy of next day delivery in the UK with no minimum order quantity.”
Though GDP may just about be back in growth in the UK, indicators like truck registrations and trailer demand suggest that there might be stagnation in the commercial vehicle market – and the tyre market in turn. However, Mathias explained that Bridgestone looks upon the development of the market rather differently: “We don’t necessarily agree with the term ‘stagnation’. The UK market is constantly evolving and customers’ needs are changing, albeit at a fairly steady pace. Sales are increasing, [also] at a steady pace, and Bridgestone is meeting customer demands through its Total Tyre Care approach.”
Mathias says that Bridgestone is able to distinguish itself through a wide product and servicing portfolio that it says not many others can match. “Although the UK market is congested, there are very few tyre manufacturers who can offer a true fleet tyre solution offer. Bridgestone’s strategy is to form tyre partnerships with fleet customers through our Total Tyre Care approach (incorporating Total Tyre Life for long lasting tyres and casings, Total Tyre Service through the Truck Point network, and Total Tyre Systems including our new Tyre Pressure Monitoring System).
“Bridgestone’s fleet approach means that we have weathered the storm of the recession by retaining fleet customers on contract, and have secured the shelf space of the independent Truck Point dealers who service these fleets on Bridgestone’s behalf. Bridgestone is very well placed to meet the demands of the market with two well respected new tyre brands (premium Bridgestone products and the value line Firestone brand), along with the extensive Bandag Retread product range with both premium and Pro-Tread offerings.”
Mathias also points to the company’s manufacturing self-sufficiency in Europe as a way it is comparatively well-placed in the territory: “Bridgestone Europe is pretty much self-sufficient with truck and bus tyre production utilising the facilities in Bilbao, Spain and Stargard, Poland, therefore able to increase or decrease production to meet our own demand as required.”
User-friendly Bridgestone naming protocol to be introduced
Naturally fleets are continually looking for more ways to save fuel, as the top-line expense continues to rise in price, so Mathias believes Bridgestone’s Ecopia product range “will increasingly feature in their purchasing demands.” He explains that independent Millbrook proving ground testing “showed that the Ecopia product range can offer up to 7.4 per cent fuel saving versus Bridgestone’s existing range of regional tyres.”
Having said this, Mathias says greater fuel efficiency has become a more important goal across Bridgestone’s “full range of tyres, not just the specific fuel efficient products, which poses a challenge for the research and development team: [to] make tyres more fuel efficient, but long lasting and versatile across a range of applications.”
Later this year Bridgestone plans to launch the successors to its Regional R297 steer and Regional M729 drive tyres, with the RS-001 and RD-001 products. Mathias says: “This will be the most important product launch from Bridgestone for many years, but initial tests have shown excellent performance in the UK market.”
These products demonstrate the beginning of “a new naming protocol” for Bridgestone, identifying more easily the specialist application of products – in this case, RS stands for “Regional Steer”, while RD is “Regional Drive”. This paradigm “will be rolled out for all future products,” Mathias says, though it makes particular sense to focus on these examples for the UK market. Mathias characterises the UK as “still predominantly a ‘regional’ tyre market,” and “with 90 per cent of freight transport completed on journeys of less than 500km per trip,” it is difficult to argue with that assessment.