Spare tire revolt in Europe is gathering momentum
Even though the European tire industry continues to be buoyant in terms of sales in both original equipment and the aftermarket sector, there are clouds on the horizon which could well lead to a violent storm.
This potential problem is not actually associated with the tire market but lies firmly in the hands of the vehicle manufacturing industry because this budding mutiny is all about the traditional spare tire in the boot of vehicles and the fact that effectively it no longer exists in Europe.
During the past three to four years there has been an increasing shift in policy by car makers to replace the long-standing spare wheel and jack with a series of DIY repair kits for drivers to use to temporarily seal a punctured tire and then drive to the nearest tire center to purchase a new tire.
The reason given for this inconvenient switch, according to vehicle manufacturers, is that they took up too much space and also without them fuel economy improved. However, it is also worth mentioning that the switch to a sealant meant a £150 ($221) saving in producing a vehicle.
However, as a growing army of irate motorists have learned to their cost, these sealants can repair a small hole or tear in a tire’s tread but are absolutely useless in dealing with a puncture where the sidewall has been damaged or the tire has completely blown. In fact, statistics suggest that nearly half of drivers who have tried to repair a puncture with this method have failed, leaving them with no alternative than to call out a roadside assistance vehicle at considerable cost if they are not a member.
Return of the spare
Over the last 12 months or so there has been a growing momentum of rebellion from European drivers which after much media campaigning has led to a progressive comeback for having a spare wheel carried in a vehicle. This relentless campaign has eventually persuaded several leading car makers to think again and analyze the impact on their customers and start to reintroduce a spare tire with new cars.
Leading this most welcome return are Ford and Toyota who in Europe are now advertising some of their latest vehicles having a spare wheel in the boot as standard once again. I recently spoke with a director of a leading European national breakdown service company who pointed out that this reluctant “climb-down” by manufactures was most welcome as it doesn’t matter if a tire is shredded. All a driver has to do is fit the spare tire.
So far the development of reverting back to cars carrying a spare tire is slow and at the moment most of the best-selling marques still offer a specialized repair kit as standard. In fact, they have even managed to develop a cheeky “sales sting” by forcing drivers who really insist on a spare tire to pay a premium on the sales tag.
At the same time some manufacturers are meeting the problem halfway by fitting space-saver tires which will temporarily resolve the problem of a puncture but will need to be replaced with a proper tire after a certain amount of miles.
What the future holds
At the moment it is difficult to say whether eventually there will be a complete change back to a spare wheel and jack being available with every new vehicle. However, I believe it will happen eventually through the absolute refusal of drivers to accept a sealant alternative.
There is no doubt that the OE tire sales market in Europe wholeheartedly welcomes the comeback of the spare tire as over the past five years they have seen a moderate decline in tire sales to vehicle producers.
As we are all very much aware, the tire industry never stands still in terms of technological advancements, and I have recently attended shows in Europe where the theme is very much leaning toward impressively futuristic tires that are completely airless. I am convinced that sooner or later (probably later) the trusted spare tire will once again fade into insignificance. But then, because of the prospect of a puncture, the spare tire will be completely eradicated. ■
John Stone has been working within the global tire industry for the past 20 years. In 2004 he launched his own consulting company, Sapphire Media Services, which caters to business media clients around the globe. Stone also writes for tire and automotive-related publications in Europe, South Africa and Asia.
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