Retreading: a European perspective
In units produced, the retread market in Europe is slightly more than half the size of the retread market in the United States — 7.5 million units per year versus 14.7 million units per year, respectively. However, retreads are used on more vehicles in the European Union (EU) than in the U.S.
Forty-three percent of all replacement tires sold in the EU, whether passenger or medium truck, are retreads, according to Brenno Benaglia, president of Bipaver, the trade association for the European retread industry. In northern countries like Finland and Sweden, retreads comprise more than 50% of tires on the road.
Tiremakers play big role
The EU has about 450 active retread plants, compared to some 865 active retread plants in the U.S. Germany has the most with 80 to 100 plants, Benaglia recently told Commercial Tire Dealer.
“There are about 50 in Italy and 30 in the United Kingdom. In France, you can count them on one hand. In Europe, we have a lot of small plants that produce 5,000 to 6,000 retreads a year.”
Nearly two million of the EU’s retreads are directly produced by new tire manufacturers, “with the vast majority made by Michelin.” Italy’s Marangoni SpA also enjoys a substantial share of the market.
Passenger retread production, while nearly obsolete in the U.S., makes up a sizeable percentage of the EU’s total annual retread output at approximately 1.5 million units.
However, when it comes to overall volume, the EU market has been gradually shrinking. Ten years ago, the EU had three times as many retread shops as it does now, “but a lot of them closed because their business was marginal.”
Another problem that has led to the demise of many family-owned retread plants is lack of continuity from one generation to the next, said Benaglia.
While the EU is a single economic entity with a common currency, culturally and politically it remains a collection of fiercely independent nations, said Benaglia. As such, business practices and standards — including tire sizes — vary dramatically from country to country.
“The size standardization you have in the U.S. is heavenly. We live under a different system in which each country has a different size. Even inside the same country, you have different sizes.”
European trucking companies are much smaller and run fewer trucks than their American counterparts. The average fleet in the EU has six trucks, according to Benaglia.
“In northern Europe we’re starting to see large fleets, but they will probably never reach the size of U.S. fleets.”
Distribution of retreads is more localized in Europe. Unlike the U.S., where a retread made in Florida can wind up on a truck in New Jersey, the vast majority of retreads in the EU are sold in the same geographic zone where they are made.
Bipaver is working on several initiatives on behalf of its members, said Benaglia. The association’s first goal is to change negative public perception about retreading.
“Retreading is the first way to avoid scrap tires and give continuity to quality new tires... the possibility of a second or third tire life.
“Secondly, we’re working on the fact that we have to promote the fuel saving qualities of retreads. We want to tell people the way they use their retreads is absolutely important. If your retreads are underinflated, your vehicle’s fuel consumption will be higher.”
In Europe, fuel comprises 30% of a typical fleet’s operating budget. “If you can reduce your rolling resistance by 5%, you can see what the big advantage is.
“Finally, we want to promote a culture of how to use all tires. We’re using the same arguments that the major tire manufacturers are telling consumers” — namely, the importance of maintaining proper inflation levels and safe tread depths. ■