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Diamonds in the rough?: Carbide-infused retreads give snow tires a new way to grip

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Drivers who want better-than-average traction in severe winter weather have numerous options: dedicated snow tires, studded tires, even tires containing ground walnut shells. Elmira, N.Y.-based tire dealer Jeff Barlow is promoting another alternative: remolded tires containing carbide granules in their treads.

Barlow's three-outlet dealership, Twin Tier Tire Corp., began selling carbide-infused passenger and light truck retreads last year with what he calls "tremendous" results. "We sold 3,000 units out of our stores." Four of the company's retail customers in surrounding areas sold another 7,000 tires -- not bad for a product that until recently had been available only in Scandinavia, he says.

Twin Tier Tire imports the retreads, called Green Diamond Traction Tires, from Eastern Tire Co., a wholesaler in New Glasgow, Nova Scotia, that manufactures them. (Carbide granule retread technology, pioneered in Iceland during the 1970s, was introduced to the Scandinavian mass market four years ago by a native company called New Industries LDT.) Barlow, through Green Diamond North America Inc., has exclusive distribution rights to the tires in the United States. He expects to sell up to 50,000 units this season as more customers become aware of their performance capabilities.

The tires' ultra-hard, pyramid-shaped carbide granules are added to tread rubber as it's being attached to casings during the retreading process (see photo). They fall out as the tire wears, to be replaced by more granules located deeper in the rubber.

The granules bite into pavement like studs, but that's where the similarities between the two traction methods end, according to Barlow. Green Diamond granules are so small -- usually half the size of a grain of rice, if not smaller -- "they don't damage roads," Barlow says. "You can run them year-round.

"Studs also wear down and don't have the gripping power they did when new. That doesn't happen with these tires," since they maintain constant traction because of the proliferation of granules.

As states continue to severely regulate stud usage due to environmental worries and other concerns, carbide-infused retreads may provide a viable alternative, he says.

Feedback from customers who ran Green Diamond retreads last winter was positive, Barlow says. "I must have gotten 20 calls from people who had stories about how well the tires worked."

Green Diamond's efforts to advertise the tires have been minimal so far. The company ran a 30-second commercial late last year that explained the risks of winter driving plus the features and benefits of its tires, and new commercials are in the works. But most of the buzz surrounding the product has been generated by word of mouth. "We've received twice the response we expected. For whatever reason, people love the idea."

Barlow is targeting retailers in the New England area for domestic distribution, but plans to expand his scope westward as business picks up. "We'd like one in each major market."

Green Diamond's product selection currently includes passenger and light truck retreads. Medium commercial truck units for bus and pick-up/delivery applications are expected to come on-line through a precure process within a few months. "It may make sense to have our own manufacturing facility at some point, but that's a long way down the road." The company also is shopping out the concept to various tire manufacturers.

In addition, Barlow wants to expand Green Diamond's two-man sales force, which includes his uncle, ex-Twin Tier Tire President H. Carlton Eldritt, who has come out of retirement to help promote the product.

"Green Diamond Traction Tires will be to the tire industry what Viagra is to an old man," Barlow predicts. But for now he'll settle for rising awareness.

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