The Trade and Industry Select Committee report on The UK Automotive Industry in 2004, has stated that the UK is “a good venue for automotive production.” It also went on to suggest that the industry calls for consistent implementation of EU regulations and strict monitoring of EU-wide schemes for emissions trading.
There was good news for the SMMT Industry Forum and Automotive Academy, which was praised for its work in improving competitiveness and addressing the skills shortage. However, it criticised falling new car prices and the action taken to open up the market for independent service and repair outlets.
The SMMT was disappointed with the criticism and has issued a contentious response following the release of the report. Chief executive Christopher Macgowan commented: “The fundamentals of this report are good news for the industry. While the sector is not without its problems, the Committee has recognised the steps taken to address issues of competitiveness and skills through organisations like SMMT Industry Forum and the new Automotive Academy.
“By continuing to work closely with the government we can ensure that threats identified in the report, such as the cost of regulation and low levels of investment in research and development, do not erode the UK’s significant automobile production and supply base.”
When a concept, like Tyre Pressure Monitoring Systems (TPMS), is still relatively new, it means that developments are more clearly noticeable. Even in a few months it is possible to trace the concept’s development.
There are two versions of this technology; direct and indirect measuring systems. As you would expect, both have advantages and disadvantages. Direct systems are substantially more expensive but more precise than indirect systems. Indirect systems are cheaper, but less accurate. These systems were originally based on the ABS infrastructure, but are now also based on ESP. Indirect systems cross-link with the vehicle’s electronics so they cannot be installed after manufacture. Conversely, direct systems are components of the wheel and therefore can be re-tooled relatively straightforwardly in the aftermarket.
It is not yet clear which system will be accepted as the standard, something that is largely to do with American legislation. The American road safety authority, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), will have to decide which criteria will govern the regulation of these devices before they can become components in newly certified vehicles in the USA.
In the past decisions had to be taken back because interest groups opposed them. Sometimes representatives of the other competing technology protested, sometimes consumer federations did, and on other occasions the automakers makers used their influence. Again and again new arguments arose, most of which contained at least a few good ideas. The consumer federations, for example, argued that drivers have a right to the best technical solution, which supports direct measurement. The manufacturers, on the other hand, referred to the fact that, in the US, ABS is still far from penetrating the market as well as the technology has in Europe (100 per cent of new vehicles produced in Europe are now fitted with ABS). If one side decides to support indirect measuring systems, ABS has to be introduced at the same time, which gives significantly more leverage to the safety argument. In short the decision remains up in the air.
At an extraordinary meeting of the FIA’s World Rally Championship Commission FIA President, Max Mosley, announced plans for developing the WRC. Part of plan for 2005 is to require control tyres, in order to reduce the current high expense of tyre testing. An idea that may hold some merit but one that perhaps will reduce tyre company involvement in sponsorship. In 2006 it is expected that tyre regulation limits will be expanded so that competitors are allowed only one set of tyres per day, another cost saving measure. Also being considered are the use of common components among cars, so that one single nominated supplier develops the same components used by each team.
The ruling body of Formula One, the FIA, has made a ruling that could effectively brand Michelin’s tyres as illegal. This follows a complaint, believed to have been made by Ferrari and Bridgestone, although both have denied it, that Michelin’s tread is wider than the 270 mm permitted by F1 regulations. If Michelin has to scrap its current tyres, the company cannot possibly modify the design before the Italian Grand Prix on September 14th and Michelin’s Pierre Dupasquier has suggested that the five teams running on Michelins might boycott the Monza GP. He says: “Our partners would have to spend a lot of money without any guarantee that they would not be disqualified. It is up to them to decide.”
A short time after the Firestone recall in the US the Congress proclaimed a law so called Tread Act, the President signed it and it became effective. Especially the improvement in safety of the consumers was the target of this initiative, which should for a lot of products in the automotive area lead to changes, also for tyres and not only for tyre pressure monitoring systems. Among others was fixed that from November 1st all in the United States new registrated cars should be fitted with tyre monitoring systems. The American public agency NHTSA got the order to make proposals regarding the details of new tyre (safety) standards for the biggest vehicle market in the world. Under the title “Tire Pressure Monitoring Systems” the agency made a report, in which a lot of knowledge with regard of the contents in the Ford/Firestone dispute flued in. The NHTSA results should lead to a regulation the congress should agree on April 1st last year already. But even still now the procedere is not finished and got a set-back: The Office of Management and Budget (OMB), a White House department, gave the NHTSA report back to the agency and made some additional proposals the NHTSA should proof before a new standard regarding to car tyres could be concluded. Most criticized by the OMB were: too high costs – for the national economy, the affected industry and the consumers.That car makers and suppliers still have to wait until it will be clear which regulations will be common is a pity: We learnt to talk about the round black things and are not really surprised when we hear about elevations with fatale results about the state of tyres. The nowadays state of tyre technology however could lead to a situation that the tyre is at the far end of reasons for accidents. Our magazine gives the newest developments in the April issue in detail and also gave some insiders the opportunity to publish their point of view. They all agree in one point: The world of tyres – in technical aspects – stands before revolutionary changes, and a lot of new chances.
South Africa is set to adopt UN safety regulations concerning vehicle components, such as lights, brakes and tyres. This will make it easier for South African companies to sell abroad, as well as making the roads safer. Transport Minister Dullah Omar told a conference that there was a need to educate the public and officials about proper tyre management. He also said that, although SA has no standard for the manufacture of tyres, this would be reviewed this year. The South African Bureau of Standards said that it wanted to assume a bigger role in regulating the tyre industry, as self-regulation by the industry has not worked so far.
The Tun Abdul Razak Research Centre (TARRC) has been deeply involved for the past two years in an EU-funded CRAFT project, the aim of which is to achieve better assessment of new tyre casing integrity in order to increase the number of tyres retreaded in Europe. TARRC hosted a seminar to discuss the impact of existing and proposed regulations on retreaders and some findings from the CRAFT project. The reason for the CRAFT project was based on a concern by retreaders that the quality of some new tyre casings was decreasing, with the danger that the industry could be deprived of its basic raw material. Principal research objectives included the development of new tests in order to predict the retreadability of new tyres, the establishment of a best practice drum test and a league table of tyre brands, rated according to their retreadability. The project will be finished this year. In investigating retreadability, TARRC tested a number of tyres in accordance with Regulation 54, the standard against which new tyres are tested. Under this standard, tyres are drum tested for 47 hours. The results were extremely surprising and indicate that either Regulation 54 is deeply flawed, or that the tyre industry has a problem. Testing 295/80 R22.5 M-rated tyres, the results showed a failure rate among new tyres of 20.8%. The new tyre manufacturers usually carry out their own tests and their failure rates are nothing like this figure, which begs the question why is there such a disparity between manufacturers’ results and the findings from TARRC? Under the new retreading Regulation 109, tyres are chosen and tested at random by an outside agency. Is there any independent validation of the in-house testing of new tyres? A proposal was made that new tyre manufacturers and retreaders cooperate in a programme of cross-testing new tyres in order to try and solve this apparent anomaly. Whether or not this will happen remains to be seen.
Employees at Continental General Tire’s plant in Bryan, Ohio USA have signed an agreement ensuring an increase in wages and pensions plus a regulation of working time (a four shift programme, seven days a week) up to the year 2006. The same agreement will apply in Charlotte, General Tire’s largest plant in North America, where employees had been on strike for over a year to achieve these improved conditions. Continental’s workforce has diminished from 1,450 to around 1,300 following the strikes.