By the time you read this a quarter of the world will be on some kind of lockdown along with virtually every car plant in Europe and many tyre factories. We are in uncharted territory. And, as ETRMA secretary general Fazilet Cinaralp said recently, we have to brace ourselves for “one of the biggest challenges our industry has ever faced”. And yet there have already been numerous examples of endeavour, enterprise and generosity in the face of such adversity.
As the February 2020 issue of Tyres & Accessories goes to press, the United Kingdom is officially leaving the European Union after three years of intense dispute and debate. At the same time, 2019 wasn’t a great year for the automotive and tyre industries (see page 36 onwards for further details of what has transpired during the last 12 months). And with a no-deal scenario presenting the possibility of import tariffs on and parts, 2020 doesn’t look like it is going to be a whole bunch better. However, while the disappointing performance of the car and tyre markets is linked to Brexit, the issues are not one and the same.
Counterfeiting: Flattery or just illegal imitation?
“Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery”, according to Oscar Wilde. But businesses don’t tend to be so charitable in their interpretation of such actions. Indeed, industrial counterfeiting, copyright breaches and general contempt for intellectual property are all-too common. The most recent example of copyright dispute in the tyre industry saw one of the world’s largest and longest established tyremakers pitted against a relative unknown.
Goodyear and Halfords moves represent the virtualization of the tyre distribution chain
The ongoing effects of import tariffs, Brexit uncertainty and structural changes in the distribution chain have all affected the tyre business this year. As well as featuring the latest motorsport news and covering market developments in our regular features, this month’s Tyres & Accessories focuses on a number of key examples of changes in the marketplace in our Review of the Year feature. But one trend stands out above the others – virtualization. In short, increasing moves towards electric and autonomous vehicles (complete with their inherent sensorisation tendencies), coupled with changes in vehicle (and tyre) ownership models such as MaaS (Mobility as a Service) are driving changes in the tyre market that are resulting in the virtualizing of parts of the distribution chain.
Tyre people often remind us that the tyre is a vehicle’s only point of contact with the ground. This is, of course, true and a very salient point. However, as tyres get smarter, so are roads and infrastructure.
This month we face the latest Brexit deadline. The deadline Prime Minister Boris Johnson said he would rather “die in a ditch” than overshoot. However, as we go to press no-one knows if we will Brexit on this date; and if we do, what kind of Brexit it will be. We reported how automotive manufacturers and their suppliers have made their feelings known en masse here, but the broader truth is that the details of the subject remain a great unknown. So, let’s look to the future and how more businesses what to make their future an ecologically sustainable one.
Range anxiety, ADAS and unexpected electric vehicle consequences
The future is electric and the automotive market is rapidly moving in such a voltaic direction. But the transition is far from complete and the switch to autonomous vehicles is even further off. In the interim we all have to be aware of some of the unexpected consequences that the introduction of new technologies brings. The two clearest examples are range anxiety and ADAS concerns.
New chapter in politics parallels new chapter in UK automotive manufacturing
As we all now know, Boris Johnson became the United Kingdom’s new Prime Minister on 24 July. The first thing he did was replace almost the entire cabinet, with a reshuffle of unprecedented proportions. Next, he gave his maiden speech on the steps of 10 Downing Street, with an address that sought to build a platform for economic and political optimism against the recent backdrop of Brexit stagnation. Not only will we leave the EU by 31 October, we are going to do it in style, he effectively said. In doing so, Boris – as he is affectionately known – revealed as much about the changing nature of the automotive manufacturing industry and its suppliers as he did about British politics.
Bridgestone pulling away at the top of global tyre manufacturer rankings
This month’s magazine includes our annual leading tyre manufacturers table (click here for more). Ranking the world’s biggest and big tyre firms in this way gives everyone a baseline reference for gauging different firms’ performance and – if previous years are anything to go by – it can be a real conversation starter as well.
At the time of going to press, the President of the United States of America is mid-way through a state visit to the UK. Before he even landed on British soil, President Donald Trump stirred up controversy by tweeting his disparaging thoughts about London Mayor Sadiq Kahn. Whatever view one might hold about the propriety of Trump’s visit, we all know that 31-gun salutes and tea with the queen are about more than niceties. Sure enough less than 24 hours into the state visit, presidential talk turned to trade, with Trump backing out-going Prime Minister Theresa May to complete Brexit negotiations and promising a “phenomenal” trade deal between the US and UK. But all this is set against the backdrop of all-out trade war between the US and China at the same time that Europe is involved in somewhat more Cold War-esque trade skirmishes with China as well. The questions are: do such measures work? And what do they mean for the tyre business?
Can artificial intelligence reduce warranty claims?
At the start of April 2019, Bridgestone formally completed its billion-dollar acquisition of TomTom Telematics. The goal – as ever – is to capitalise on the benefits of big data, leveraging its usefulness in the cause of better tyres and greater efficiency for all stakeholders. Of course, Bridgestone is not the only tyremaker seeking to make the most of tyre data. Many have invested significantly in developing cyber tyres over the course of the last 10 to 15 years, harnessing the fact that tyres are a vehicles’ only point of contact with the road and therefore the only means of generating real-time road surface:vehicle contact data. This same approach also yields tyre condition and performance data, which can be used for everything from motorsport to commercial fleet applications. But what about in the manufacturing process itself?
We were told that 29 March was the Brexit deadline. As we go to press in the week after that deadline passed, it is clear that we don’t know either when or how we are going to Brexit. As we discussed last month, the consensus amongst analysts and the automotive industry is that there will be a massive negative impact on vehicle manufacturing (and therefore automotive suppliers) in the UK. But what else do we have to look forward to?
Is Brexit going to wreak havoc on the automotive business or is it all just another millennium bug flash-in-the-pan? If a no-deal withdrawal does spell havoc, is it going to impact the tyre business as much as the OEMs?
Data increasingly important to future prospects in tyre and mobility sectors
It is not unusual for the start of the year to be replete with corporate acquisitions. Some even happen while much of the western world is enjoying Christmas and new year holidays. While European FinTyre Distribution (EfTD) did indeed enact the latest move in its ongoing strategic purchasing programme during the 2018 holiday break, it seems that this year February was the month of choice for getting the chequebooks out, with Bridgestone, Michelin and – in the UK at least – Goodyear all announcing strategic spending. For different but connected reasons all three challenge us to consider the impact of changing mobility trends.
Phillip K Dick may well have been thinking far further into the future than the current popularisation of electric cars when he wrote his famous novella “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?”, however the rise of big data alongside electric and autonomous vehicles means the most advanced cars of today have an increasing amount in common with the artificial intelligence in the source material for the film Blade Runner.