When the Covid-19 pandemic led to the first national lockdown in March 2020, it wasn’t immediately clear what was allowed to be open. It also took time to clarify who exactly could be defined as key workers. However, it quickly became apparent that – whatever else happens – logistics fleets and blue-light services were indispensable. And these vehicles can’t get anywhere without tyres. Therefore, garages and tyre-fitters were swiftly categorised as exempted businesses and key workers respectively. Having learnt the lessons of the first lockdown, this time things are clear: Tyre garages are allowed to remain open during lockdown. And tyre specialists are key workers.
Despite the fact that the UK was in the middle of lockdown, Michelin Tyre Plc’s ultra-modern retread manufacturing operation resumed production at the end of April. In fact, according to the company, there were only two reasons that the Campbell Road, Stoke-on-Trent site paused manufacturing at all: because the coronavirus-related closures coincided with a pre-planned maintenance stoppage; and because – again due to Covid-19 – there was trouble securing deliveries of the right raw materials from the continent prior to April (see “Michelin Stoke up-and-running, looking forward to ‘steady market growth’” for Michelin UK factory manager Francois Levert’s view on how things have progressed after reopening). Therefore, Michelin UK’s retread manufacturing operation only actually endured a three-week factory shutdown. The neighbouring UK headquarters opened in mid-July and so now its truck tyre and retreading business is putting the focus on success in the new normal. This began with a communications drive that has seen the manufacturer promote the ecological benefits of retreads. Tyres & Accessories spoke with Michelin Plc managing director Chris Smith in order to find out more.
In order to support members during these unusual times, the National Tyre Distributors Association (NTDA) has developed a key worker identity card. According to the association, the NTDA was “inundated with members seeking advice and guidance on the status of their employees as key workers” during the full lockdown period.
The Independent Garage Association (IGA) is urging the Government to remove the six-month MOT extension with immediate effect, following the Prime Minister’s announcement that further social distancing measures will be relaxed from 4 July.
Following the news that the DVSA will restart heavy vehicle testing from 4 July 2020, Tyres & Accessories understands that the government Department for Transport (DfT) is consulting on ending the rolling MOT extension initiated at the start of lockdown in March 2020. While DVSA published a statement on 19 June 2020 relating to restarting HGV tests, DfT has not yet answered T&A’s car MOT-related questions on the subject.
However, when we approached the National Tyre Distributors Association for a tyre industry perspective on the reports, the NTDA gave is full support to proposals to end the current temporary car MOT extension currently being given to the expiry dates of MOT tests as they become due. Specifically, the NTDA called for government to “restart with immediate effect” the normal MOT process.
European lockdowns have caused sever interruptions to many in the tyre industry. But as the continent’s businesses enter a new phase of reopening, it is important to understand how this can be achieved while minimising the associated risks. Due to the different national timelines involved in this process, UK businesses may look to mainland countries a little further along this journey to see how they are proceeding. Tyres & Accessories spoke to the COO and president of Falken Tyre Europe, Markus Bögner, about how the Offenbach, Germany based company – part of Japan’s Sumitomo Rubber Industries (SRI) – has weathered lockdown, and is now beginning to “see positive changes” in key European markets.
In March, the rapid spread of COVID-19 began to drastically impact almost all industries across Europe. Some had to accelerate production to address a sudden spike in demand while others cut back production in response to declining demand and as a means of limiting the further spread of the virus.
Venson Automotive Solutions is urging fleet managers to encourage company car drivers to ensure their vehicles are road ready as the nation anticipates an easing of lockdown. The advice from Venson follows its latest survey of UK motorists which revealed that one in five do not know when their MOT is due, and 69 per cent are unclear about when the Government’s six-month MOT exemption came into play.
Although UK monthly new car registrations in April were lower than since the days of postwar petrol rationing, there is at least some optimism that the automotive industry will benefit from one aspect of the COVID-19 crisis. With social distancing and fear of contagion part of the ‘new normal’, mistrustful commuters may shun public transport in favour of private cars.
The great reduction in vehicle movements resulting from lockdown has had an unintended and unwelcome consequence for some motorists. Kwik Fit reports that with the vast majority of people making only infrequent, or very short journeys, the number of drivers visiting its outlets over the four weeks to 1 May needing a new battery has been double the usual rate for the time of year.
In line with the gradual relaxing of the lockdown in Italy, industrial activity at Pirelli’s Settimo Torinese facility resumes today. The tyre maker says production levels will initially be below normal levels in light of lower current demand.
Following a slight easing of the lockdown regulations in India, Apollo Tyres reports it “partially resumed” tyre production yesterday at its Perambra plant in Kerala state. Apollo’s other plants in India remain closed for the time being.