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Minimizing cost per mile

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Minimizing cost per mile

Fleet managers today are all about cost savings in an uncertain economy. Downsizing trucks, shortening delivery routes and looking at ways to save on fuel costs are some of the ways. Tire technology of the 21st century is offering another area of savings.

“Fleets are now more than ever looking at tires as a means to lower their operating expenses,” says Bill Hoban, national truck tire sales manager at Cooper Tire & Rubber Co.

“SmartWay products are growing in acceptance because they offer long-haul fleets an opportunity to enhance their fuel mileage. Fleets are also evaluating tier three tires today that several years ago would not have been permitted by many fleet managers.”

“As fuel efficiency legislation and regulations continue to evolve, enhanced fuel economy will remain a top concern of fleets,” says Norberto Flores, brand manager, Goodyear Commercial Tire Systems at Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co. “But beyond low rolling resistance and improved fuel efficiency, today’s fleets — particularly in the long-haul segment — also want their tires to deliver additional benefits.”

Flores says those benefits include long miles to removal and superior traction.

“These benefits will continue to be important considerations as fleets look for ways to lower their operating costs, which is what Goodyear wants to help them accomplish,” Flores explains.

“Fuel efficiency is certainly the trend in commercial tire products, but application-specific products are also very important,” says Rick Phillips, senior director, commercial and OTR sales at Yokohama Tire Corp. “It’s imperative for fleets to select the right product for their application so they get the most out of their investment.”

“Overall, the market is feeling the effects of a slow economy and trending lower in sales volume in 2013 versus 2012,” says Aaron Murphy, vice president of China Manufacturers Alliance LLC (CMA). “We feel that the second half of this year will bring growth in both the economy and truck tire sales.”

A steady climb

According to the Rubber Manufacturers Association (RMA), the use of medium ­— and heavy-duty truck tires has steadily increased in the last several years at both the OE and replacement levels.

According to Bob Loeser, senior engineer, commercial tire development at Kumho Tire U.S.A. Inc.’s Kumho America Technical Center, original equipment shipments for the popular 445/50R22.5 wide-base tire went from 116,930 units in 2011 to 119,713 in 2012.

That compares to replacement shipments of 182,035 units in 2011 versus 191,883 units in 2012. “With sales  of  the 225/70R19.5 size, which is indicative of the whole market, everything dipped in 2009 when it was the bottom of the truck tire replacement market,” says Loeser.

“In 2010 sales went up and it has been a slow recovery since then. The 225/70R19.5 size has done well over the last several years because people began switching to smaller trucks where they could. Better gas mileage is a significant factor in that trend.”

As some fleets turn to smaller trucks to save on costs, they also consider retreadability.

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“One key trend in the truck tire market is the continuing consolidation of dealers around their flag brand to include the retreading process — dealers are being forced to tie new tire purchases with retread processes by certain manufacturers,” says John Hull, national truck tire sales manager for Alliance Tire Americas Inc.

That creates an opportunity for brands like Alliance’s Aeolus, he says, because commercial dealers are still looking for a good-priced, good-performing, non-national account tire they can invest in without a lot of strings attached.

“Another major trend is declining price and more aggressive sell-in programs by all the manufacturers,” explains Hull. “Today, we have a plentiful supply of tires and a soft market, which always leads to the ‘deal of the day’ for manufacturers and a decline in margins as everybody fights for market share.”

Hull says another market issue is the continuing focus by independent truckers on rolling resistance figures as part of their product selection process. But the lower the rolling resistance number is, the higher the price will be.

“That’s creating a big trade-off, especially as rolling resistance has become a catch phrase that may be causing some truckers to lose sight of the big picture. A good-performing tire at a reasonable price point is still a good value for the trucker in most applications. Rolling resistance is just a part of that equation.”

Miles of savings

“Fleets want to maximize their cost per mile, so that is why for long-haul applications, the trend is for fleets to demand tires that deliver not only improved fuel economy but do so without sacrificing removal mileage or retreadability,” says Bert Jones, product marketing manager, TBR, Retread and OTR at Bridgestone Commercial Solutions, a business unit of Bridgestone Americas Tire Operations LLC.

“This has been part of the development for Bridgestone for the last several years, with the introduction of Ecopia in 2012 and the Firestone eco-Products lineup this year.”

Jones says that through improved and patented technology, Bridgestone offers products that deliver on the promise of fuel efficiency and longer original tread life.

“I believe mileage driven is increasing,” says Paul Williams, executive vice president for truck tires the Americas at Continental Tire the Americas Inc. “However, continued re-use of retreading, longer-mileage tires and high continued OE pull, which is loading the replacement market with new tires, are mitigating the overall increase in miles driven.”

SmartWay all the way

“Though demand is still very strong for low-cost tires, the emerging trend seems to be investment in low rolling resistance technology,” says Jim Mayfield, president of Del-Nat Tire Corp. “For fleet buyers in larger domestic markets this means acquiring tires that perform better according to emission standards, particularly Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) SmartWay-verified truck tires.”

“One clear trend is a growing awareness of the importance of fuel economy and the contribution that low rolling resistance tires can make,” says William Estupinan, vice president of technical service the Americas for GITI Tire (USA) Ltd. “The voluntary SmartWay program, in combination with state regulations like CARB, has been a driving force in the trucking industry by mobilizing the tire manufacturers to offer tires with certain rolling resistance coefficients per axle position in long-haul service for reduced fuel consumption.”

Estupinan says during the last few years, there has been a surge in demand for wide-base single tires. A key factor for this growth has been the reduction in vehicle weight with wide-base tires.

“Also, their natural low rolling resistance contributes to the vehicle’s overall fuel economy,” explains Estupinan. “In fact, currently there are eight different manufacturers offering a combination of 19 different patterns.”

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Range change

Estupinan expects regional service trucking to continue expanding in the years to come, while long hauling will decrease slightly. This will impose opportunities and challenges both to the trucking and the tire industries in terms of fuel economy, emissions control and hauling loads. “We believe that the need for fuel efficient tires in regional service will become more and more relevant,” says Estupinan.

With the emergence of heavier trucks which are expected to meet EPA, Department of Transportation and National Highway Traffic Safety Administration regulations, OE steer tires need to have higher load-carrying capacities.

“We are seeing two trends in this market segment — super regional applications and fuel savings,” says Jaye Young, director of marketing at Michelin Americas Truck Tires.

“The super-regional application is an emerging segment in which trucks operate approximately 100,000 miles per year, often within a 500-mile radius.”

Young says this application is the result of the trend toward shorter and more demanding routes in the trucking industry. Fleet customers are looking for the fuel efficiency of a line haul product with the mileage and traction of a regional product.

“In March of 2012, Michelin introduced the Michelin X Multi Energy D drive tire for regional and the emerging super regional applications to answer customer demands and take advantage in this emerging industry segment.

“The second trend is fuel savings. As the cost of fuel increases, the importance of fuel economy becomes more relevant. For most fleets, fuel costs represent the single highest non-payroll operating expense.

“To this end, rolling resistance accounts for approximately a third of fuel costs. The lower the rolling resistance, the less fuel consumed. A 3% reduction in rolling resistance translates into a 1% fuel savings or an increase of .05 miles per gallon. Low rolling resistance tires can offer both fuel savings as well as performance.”

Short-term vs. long-term

“Customers are demanding better-built product,” says Dean Barnhart, sales manager at Wholesale Tire Distributors, exclusive U.S. distributors of Saffiro brand truck tires.

“While a lot of smaller trucking companies were only looking at short-term savings, the trend is now moving back to long-term cost of ownership.”

“More customers are asking for the SmartWay-verified Sumitomo tire this year, while last year demand was just concentrated in California and everyone else was shopping price,” says Brad Feeney, commercial products program manager at TBC Wholesale Group. “There has also been an increase in mixed-service tires showing a sign of growth in the construction industry.

“With the SmartWay tire picking up market share, it is great to be able to offer a top-quality line at an amazing value.”

As the trend toward low rolling resistance continues, tire makers and fleets are finding another good reason to be more fuel-efficient — the environment.

“The trend toward more SmartWay-verified and low rolling resistance products seems inevitable,” says Gary Hendricks, director of commercial truck tire sales at Toyo Tire U.S.A. Corp.

“This is being driven by escalating operating costs and the desire to increase operational efficiencies by reducing fuel consumption while being more environmentally friendly.”    ■

For truck tire brand shares/shipment numbers, click here.

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