The future of tyre making at the site of Bridgestone’s recently-closed Béthune plant in France has been secured by a deal signed in July between major European vehicle maintenance and mobility firm Mobivia and French retreading specialist Black Star. With support from Bridgestone, the partners are gearing up to retread car, SUV and light commercial vehicle tyres in Béthune – products that Bridgestone intends to sell through selected retail outlets. The project will commence in January and gradually ramp up; Mobivia’s communications manager, Laurie Lalloyer, informs us that the aim is to retread 900,000 tyres a year by 2025. By that time the project is expected to have created nearly 200 jobs, including employment for many former Bridgestone workers.
Many retreaders face an uphill battle just to maintain their position in European retreading markets. For those that do, a key factor in their success is – as we’ve previously commented in these pages – possession of a stable customer base. Yet loyalty is only earned through unflagging effort; maintaining close relations with customers is important, as is product quality and price in comparison with new tyres and the competition’s retreads. A fine example of how this works on a small, regional scale can be seen at W.H.H. Reifenerneuerung, a Hamburg, Germany-based retreader that’s been in the business for almost 40 years.
A number of changes and new developments have taken place since Reifen Ihle’s retreading operation began afresh as Rigdon GmbH at the end of 2014. The company, which is based in Günzburg, near the River Danube, remains the largest independent manufacturer of retreaded tyres in Germany, however Rigdon’s restructuring is by no means complete. While the new owner has made good progress implementing its “Rigdon 2020” growth strategy and corporate transformation programme so far, Rigdon GmbH managing director Ralf Schnelle shares with Tyres & Accessories that further significant changes are coming within the framework of the five-year programme, changes that – in spite of the many problems within the market – will help the company and its employees look forward to the future with confidence.
With Continental’s acquisition of Bandvulc, the voice of independent retreading in the UK has been substantially diminished at a moment of intense market pressure and political uncertainty. Issues surrounding the at times unbelievably cheap new commercial vehicle tyres imported from China have been around for many years now, and have certainly squeezed retread output in this period. The Brexit vote has increased doubt that protectionist European market measures for which independent retreading businesses could lobby the EU to provide would be implemented in a more isolated UK market, though in the short-term the reduced value of sterling has presented opportunities for British-manufactured product. While nothing is currently clear, we will leave our readers to consider the chances of UK market protectionist measures against Chinese imports being implemented while the country redefines its trading relationship with global economic superpowers. It’s not hard to see how the security provided by merger with Conti was attractive to Bandvulc.
Retreaders in the developed European and North American markets often perform a balancing act – production levels must be high enough to ensure acceptable profits, but at the same time logistics need to remain manageable. The greater the distance between a retreader and its customer base, the more demanding and expensive the delivery of casings and finished tyres becomes. And while retreaders in non-mature markets face other issues, these must also be kept in check in order for retreading to be worthwhile. VMI, a market leader in the development, manufacture and supply of production machinery for the tyre and retreading industries, wants to tip the balance in favour of retreaders both here and around the world. This summer it is introducing a new product programme that may just do that.
The Tyre Recovery Association’s (TRA) Recycling Day, a one-day conference and dinner organised in partnership with the Retread Manufacturers Association, was held at the Ardencote Manor, Warwickshire on Friday, 19 June. Attended by representatives of the tyre and waste recycling industries, the conference included presentations covering the key themes of regulations and enforcement, best practise and innovation, and common causes and issues facing the industry. The unity of the various trade bodies struck a particularly strong note throughout the day, not just through the joint organisation of the event between the Retread Manufacturers Association (RMA) and the TRA, but with strong backing given to the event by association directors representing the whole of the UK tyre industry. The Recycling Day also marked an occasion for celebration, as the TRA celebrated its tenth anniversary.
Innovative practices aren’t only found amongst the big players in the retreading industry. One small Dutch firm has invested in a better way of keeping tabs on the tyres it retreads, and aims to extend this to the fleets it works with. In February, Tyres & Accessories spoke with Hans Jörg from Lopik-based retreader Roline, and learnt how a technology of interest to top level motorsport is being used in retreaded bus and truck tyres.
Pirelli has heavily invested in the commercial vehicle tyre segment for a number of years now. This investment has covered the development of technologically-advanced tyres and the company’s outstanding fleet segment service portfolio. The overall aim is to minimise vehicle operating costs, which today represents the central criterion for companies needing to mimimise cost per mile in order to remain competitive within their respective markets. Following this logic, retreading naturally plays an increasingly strategic role.
Not many companies operating in the OTR tyre business either locally or further afield are very happy at the moment. While the manufacturers of new tyres in particular must contend with substantial losses and respond to the weak market with discounts, retreaders – as is often the case – occasionally benefit from the situation. The global mining sector has especially suffered as a result of sinking raw material prices, a phenomenon that in turn has directly influenced the production of and consequently the demand for tyres; in contrast, the construction sector has lately shown signs of stability in Europe. Nevertheless, it is important for companies within this market segment to adapt to conditions. With this in mind, in recent months Rösler Tyre Innovators has made several important decisions.
Bridgestone has been looking to increase its truck and bus tyre market position via strategic retreading acquisitions in this part of the European market for around a decade now. One such acquisition was the targeted purchase of Lincolnshire-based Bulldog remoulds back in 2005. A little more than a year later this key part of the UK market which specialised in mould-cure retreads was joined by the entire global Bandag operation, which of course specialises in pre-cure franchising around the world. The two operations couldn’t be more different aspects of retreading, however while the acquisitions came in quick succession and the benefits of both are obvious, Bridgestone has now spent years working through the integration of both into its wider business model.
One industry veteran opines that certain aspects of the retreading process will one day become widespread within the tyre business as a whole. During his presentation on future tyre production principles and methods, given at the Tire Technology Expo 2014 conference on 11 February, one point Jacob Peled raised was that tyre production using the pre-cure method lends itself well to the manufacture of new tyres, and can save a manufacturer time while also avoiding the bottlenecks currently experienced.
When Vipal opened up European sales offices in 2005, the Brazilian retreading materials supplier was just starting out in the collection of disparate markets that make up the continent. Now European sales make up nearly 15 per cent of the company’s global turnover. With this in mind and with growth still top of the agenda, Tyres & Accessories asked Vipal Europe general manager Alessandro Bottesini Campos how this happened and what is happening next.
While we have all heard references to the financial crisis ad nauseam, in the retreading sector the paucity of quality casings is becoming a crisis of its own. Of course there are links between the general economic environment and the lack of casings in the market, but there is more to it than that. It seems that a number of pressures have combined to cause a perfect storm of hindering factors, preventing the necessary supply of casings getting to the people who need them the most – retreaders. And while getting hold of any retread’s most fundamental component is said to be taxing for everyone, things are said to be especially difficult in the independent sector.
In addition to the all the regular features Tyres & Accessories, we are pleased to provide readers with an in-depth supplement filled with the latest news and developments in the retreading sector. Subscribers can turn to our ‘Retreading Special’ by simply clicking more.
As well as over 100 pages of coverage on key industry matters, December's Tyres & Accessories includes the latest edition of our 40-page edition of our Retreading Special supplement. The third publication of its kind this year, December's Retreading Special focuses on the role of machinery in retreading and examines trends observed and influenced by this part of the market. Subscribers don't need to wait for the paper copy to arrive – click more to view our virtual e-paper version.