Will passenger tire retreading make a comeback in the U.S.?

Jan. 25, 2013

David Stevens, Managing Director

Tire Retread & Repair Information Bureau

Drive-in movies, hula-hoops, coonskin hats, passenger tire retreads... all of these were huge in the 1950s. Is one of them set to make a return to their 1950’s prominence in the U.S?

The Tire Retread & Repair Information Bureau (TRIB) gets asked that question from time to time, both from overseas members looking to exploit a potential business opportunity and from our U.S. members exploring other avenues for growth.

While we’re not experts on coonskin hats or hula-hoops, we do like to talk about the growth of retreading and many of those conversations lead to a similar place. Namely, there is a business opportunity to exploit in passenger tire retreading as long as companies can manage the following challenges:

1. Differentiate their retread product from low-cost new tires in a way that is meaningful to potential customers. The environmental benefits of retreaded tires could potentially be an advantage here.

2. Find a way to once again grow the price differential between retreaded and new tires.

3. Target a niche market that has a consistent need for low-cost tires in a narrow range of sizes. The investments required for plant equipment and molds to handle a variety of tire sizes can be substantial if there is not careful targeting. Examples of niches that are working today are postal fleets, taxi fleets, winter tires, and enthusiast off-road tires for light trucks/SUVs.

4. Develop a reliable source of good quality casings. This is a real challenge when economic factors are already leading to increased sales and usage of used tires that could have been successful retread candidates.

5. Explore alternative distribution channels (such as online) so that retreaded tires are not competing side-by-side with low cost new or used tires.

TRIB would obviously welcome an increase in passenger tire retreading in the U.S. The overwhelmingly positive economic and environmental benefits of retreaded tires should lend themselves to a resurgence here.

However, many of the same challenges that contributed to the decline in passenger tire retreading over the years still exist. If and when we can solve several of these challenges, we could again see growth in the passenger tire retreading market in the U.S.

Harvey Brodsky, Managing Director

Retread Tire Association

I have been in the retread tire industry for nearly 40 years and back when I was new to the industry one of every five replacement tires sold in the U.S. was a retread.

“Recaps $5.00” was a sign commonly seen on the reader boards of service stations everywhere. They were cheap and filled the need for a fellow who couldn’t afford new tires. Were they reliable? Pretty much so, but nothing like new tires.

Now let’s fast forward to today. New tire prices for passenger, light truck and SUVs are enough to make a tire buyer cringe. As you know, some of the tires for the huge SUVs can easily cost more than $1,000 for a set of four. This isn’t chump change for most drivers, and retreads can offer a viable and safe alternative with a saving of as much as 50% less than the cost of new tires.

This is why I believe there is an opportunity for growth in the passenger and light truck side of retreading. It will never be as large an industry as it was in the past, but I know from talking to our members and to hundreds of motorists that a well-made, good looking, bead-to-bead passenger retread priced at a fair price will fly out of tire showrooms everywhere.

However, the cost of opening a modern bead-to-bead passenger retread plant can run into the millions. This won’t stop those with a vision to see the profit opportunity, and this is why we are seeing passenger retread plants opening in several parts of the country, with more to come.

But what about casings? You can’t be a retreader without a steady supply of retreadable casings. If new tire manufacturers would put the same energy into a passenger, light truck and SUV tire as they put into producing a retreadable truck tire the casing shortage would go away tomorrow.

Tire manufacturers claim they are “green,” and if they really mean it it’s time for them to beef-up the tires they produce for cars, light trucks and SUVs and to boast about it, just as they do with truck tires.

But don’t hold your breath. (I am always ready to discuss the subject with anyone. I can be reached at (831) 646-5269 or at [email protected].)

Finally, I drive on retreads and have been doing so for more than 35 years! I walk the talk.