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These tires are made for walking!

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These tires are made for walking!

In my January column, I wrote that Singapore-based tire producer Omni United (S) Pte. Ltd. had “broken new ground” in the tire industry by launching its Timberland tire range in a unique association with a designer label — Timberland Footwear. I have been surprised by the speed in which this new innovative development has caught the attention and imagination of many people in the industry, especially here in Europe.

In speaking to a number of people across several leading tire brands, it would be true to say that Omni United may well have opened a very lucrative “box of tricks,” which looks to possibly develop into a profitable “sideline” for tire manufacturers. I always find it amazing when such innovative ideas suddenly develop into a successful business venture because on the face of it, the potential has always been there.

Tires, recycled rubber, shoes/boots: The ingredients have always been available, so it’s surprising nobody had thought of it as a viable venture until Omni United’s CEO, G.S. Sareen, came along. Full credit to Sareen for creating Timberland tires, but as he is a very resourceful and enterprising businessman, it is hardly surprising to find him at the very forefront of this exciting new use for old tires. Even if other tire manufacturers follow Omni into this development, Omni will always remain the original instigators.

I am reliably informed that at least two, possibly three leading Europe-based tire producers are already quietly looking at the feasibility of getting their old tires reprocessed into shoes and boots while intensely monitoring the future success of the Timberland project. I am sure there will be other leading shoe and boot manufacturers who would at least be interested in discussing the feasibility of using recycled rubber in their future products.

Without a doubt, I will be following the progress of this new “rubber innovation” with interest. At the same time, it has to be said using recycled rubber in the manufacture of other products is by no means a new idea. In fact, throughout Europe, companies have been implementing recycled rubber into many varied products for years. For example, in safety environments, given the soft but strong texture of rubber, most countries in Europe are using old tire rubber as the main substance for flooring in children’s playgrounds and for some of the parts of swings and slides.

To be honest, this whole project has me thinking about another important and, in my opinion, dangerous element that continues to thrive in the European tire industry: Yes, I mean part-worn tires! Despite a lot of effort by the relevant authorities to control and eradicate the sale of tires below the minimum tread depth of 1.6 mm, they remain a real problem. Also in the UK at the moment, there is a serious campaign for legislation to ensure that no tire over 10 years old is made available for sale.

So just imagine if the idea of recycled tires being used in footwear really takes off. Then could it be possible recycled rubber, in time, will become so much in demand that all old tires will be reprocessed for another use in other products, thereby completely killing off the business of part-worn tire sales?

Is this a pipe-dream? Possibly, but not entirely irrational when you consider that at the moment, the price for tires taken off vehicles to be sold to part-worn dealers is minimal. If recycled rubber became so much in demand that manufacturers decided to recycle all their returned tires for crumb rubber, then perhaps the non-availability of part-worn tires could end the process.     ■

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.

For more of John Stone's European Notebook articles, see:

Optimism and designer innovation for 2015

Brityrex addresses 'part-worn' tires and tire labeling

A worrying disinterest in tire brands

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