OTR Conference: AI, Tire/Equipment Connectivity and More Will Impact Dealers

May 14, 2020

OTR tire dealers should start planning for the future now, Bruce Besancon, vice president of OTR tire sales for Yokohama Tire Corp., said during the keynote presentation at the recent Tire Industry Association (TIA) Off-the-Road (OTR) Tire Conference.

Quantum leaps in vehicle technology and increasingly sophisticated customer expectations are just two areas that will impact OTR tire dealers, according to Besancon, who shared the stage with Yokohama President Jeff Barna.

Besancon urged dealers to keep an eye on the following:

Tire and equipment connectivity. “Who in here has a personal vehicle that doesn’t have a tire sensor?” he asked.

Autonomous mining vehicles. “We’ve been talking AVs in mining for quite some time,” he said. “In mining, as a whole, one of the highest-cost items is that driver. What happens if you eliminate the driver? Does that make (vehicle operation) safer?”

Artificial intelligence. “About 65% of companies in existence today say artificial intelligence is the way they will see success in the future,” he said. “AI is already at work” in personal vehicles, he told attendees. “Your car has lane change sensors and smart cruise control systems.”

The internet of things. “You better have a good IT department because it’s all moving digital,” he said. Blockchain technology, for example, “is now entering the mining realm. How payments get processed… will be (through) blockchain technology.” The internet of things will  impact servicing tires and vehicles, as well. “As you walk up to a vehicle, will you be able to calibrate lug nut (torque) because the machine is ‘talking’ to you?”

Green philosophies/practices. “This is going to fundamentally change how mines operate. Will customers, at some point, ask you, ‘What’s your sustainability plan? Are your service trucks going electric?’ In Europe, many times before you can even go on-site,” you have to demonstrate a high level of sustainability within your operation, he noted.

Workforce needs. “There are concerns about workers. Is (technology) going to displace workers? Will it push them into different roles? Will there be cultural resistance? Are we going to be employing robots? Have you thought of a robot going out on a service call?

“Part of your role is moving our industry forward,” he told attendees. “Your future depends a lot on this.”

True partners

What do customers want from their tire dealers more than anything else? A true business partnership, representatives from two OTR tire end users said during a panel discussion at the conference.

Lonnie Sullivan, strategic sourcing manager, mobile equipment, for Vulcan Materials Co., said the tire dealers who service his employer “know what our expectations are.”

Vulcan, which bills itself as the United States’ largest producer of construction aggregates, evaluates its dealers “on their ability to serve our plants, plus their financial strength, pricing and performance,” he noted.

Working closely with its dealers, the company has established a comprehensive tire program that includes OTR tire data collection and performance tracking, tire maintenance best practices, site reviews and other functions designed to reduce operating costs.

“The biggest piece is making sure our dealers work with the managers and other people at our plants,” said Sullivan. “We make sure we give our dealers access to our equipment when they need it.”

Panelist David Winn told attendees that his employer, Martin Marietta, which supplies aggregates, cement, asphalt and other materials, relies on its tire dealers “to make sure our tire investment is where it needs to be.”

This includes quarterly fleet inspections and other preventive maintenance services. “Our dealers come out to our site and look at the roads” leading into and out of the locations, plus “all the other things that play into tire life.

 “When I look at a tire dealer, I want support,” he added. “When I call them, I don’t want the run-around. The guy who is selling the tire makes a big impact.”

Sullivan agreed that candor is important. “We want someone who will give us the bad news, when there’s bad news, and not worry about losing the business,” he told attendees.

Other hot topics

OTR tire dealers also are grappling with how to attract younger employees. During another panel discussion, “The Next Generation of the OTR Industry,” J.P. Dowling, director of mining for CMC Tire, which has locations in Utah and Nevada, reported that only 25% of his company’s employee base is under the age of 30. His fellow panelists shared similar numbers. “We’re about 20%” under the age of 30, said Eric Griffin, president of Indland Industrial Tire North, which is based in Hayward, Calif.

Legislative issues also were highlighted during the conference. During a legislative update session, TIA CEO Dr. Roy Littlefield and Roy Littlefield IV, the association’s director of government affairs, covered tariffs, infrastructure spending and the always-controversial estate tax, in addition to other issues.

“TIA does not believe that death is a taxable event,” said Roy Littlefield IV. “We’ll continue to fight for the estate tax repeal.”

Also during the conference, motivational speakers Dave Rosenberg and Steve Gilliland shared words of wisdom with attendees. Don’t be afraid to hold employees accountable, Rosenberg said. “Accurately measure what they do. When you give people metrics, they tend to meet them. It gives you a gauge to let you know who your go-getters are.”

Gilliland said there’s no substitute for preparation — in any endeavor. “When you prepare hard, you finish easy.”

Next year’s OTR Tire Conference will take place Feb. 17-20 in Tucson, Ariz.   ■

About the Author

Greg Smith | Publisher

A 36-year veteran of automotive trade publishing, Greg Smith has held various publishing positions at the management level. He has worked extensively on both the editorial and publishing sides of the business and is a recognized expert in the aftermarket and tire industries. As such, he is a frequent speaker at many industry events. He has traveled internationally as an advocate for the industries he serves.

Currently as publisher of Modern Tire Dealer, Greg is responsible for the brand’s business operations.  MTD is where Greg got his start, and through most of the last three decades, has led it to tire market prominence.  

To support education in the tire industry, Greg leads MTD in its sponsorship of the Tire Industry Association’s Certified Instructor Training Tour, a program designed to train the trainer in proper safety and step-by-step procedures for proper wheel installation. As further reinforcement, Greg created the Performance Handbook, a how-to publication on proper ways to mount, balance and work with performance tires. 

To help recognize outstanding tire dealers, Greg helped establish the MTD Dealer of the Year award over 20 years ago. The award provides a deserving tire dealer with recognition for accomplishments both within the industry and in the dealer’s local community. 

Greg helped launch Auto Service Professional magazine in 2010. The primary focus of Auto Service Professional is to provide high-level information to an audience of more than 150,000 automotive professional technicians whether they are business owners or technicians. 

From his early years in the market, Greg has been active participating on industry committees and boards. Among the early ones were APAA and ASIA, and has since participated in AWDA, SEMA, NTDRA, TIA and TANA.