New RMA chair discusses environmental standards, imports, other issues

Oct. 24, 2007

Jim MacMaster, executive vice president of Yokohama Tire Corp., was recently elected to a two-year term as chairman of the Rubber Manufacturers Association (RMA). He recently addressed some of the major issues facing the RMA and the tire industry in general.

What are some of the major issues facing the tire industry today? "The TREAD Act is still an important issue for the industry.

But going beyond that is the attention that’s being paid to environmental issues... for example, rolling resistance. The OE manufacturers have been mandated under CAFE standards for years to improve fuel efficiency of vehicles. Now the tire industry is being requested and required to improve rolling resistance on replacement tires.

"The problem we’re facing is that some of the states, like California, have gone off on their own to mandate their own legislation, and we’re trying to get the federal government, through the Department of Transportation and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), to step up and take the lead because we’d literally have 50 different requirements for every state.

"So getting the industry in harmony with the government to implement these requirements on a more practical level is a big issue for us."

Are there import/export issues facing the RMA, too? "Yes. All eight of the RMA’s tire manufacturer members are in compliance with the TREAD Act requirements of early warning reporting, the new testing requirements, and all the other things that are mandated by the TREAD Act. But what we’re seeing is that that does not universally apply to all manufacturers... case in point, the recent Foreign Tire Sales tire issue and the recall on the Chinese-produced tires (that Foreign Tire Sales imported).

"We’re asking the government, through NHTSA, to help us level the playing field so that everybody that sells tires in the United States has to be in compliance with those requirements.

"Otherwise, we’re at a very large disadvantage to other world manufacturers. This also will insure the safety of the motoring public which was as the heart of the TREAD Act as passed by Congress."

How are you going to address some of these issues as RMA chair? "The chairman’s role is not to set or establish policy. My goal is to keep our organization going in the direction that the RMA’s President Don Shea has been leading it... the RMA government affairs group does an excellent job on the Hill in Washington. We want to keep up that momentum, but as an association for the tire and rubber industry, RMA also has to be more proactive with government affairs and issues by getting early consensus of the members.

"I’m going to see if we can facilitate quicker consensus of the association. I also want to continue our close working relationship with the dealers association, the Tire Industry Association (TIA), where we have made great strides in recent years. I want to make RMA a strong and respected voice of our industry both to Washington agencies and to the public. This industry is made up of companies that take the safety of their products and their responsibility of providing safe products to the public very seriously."

Is the RMA pushing for new environmentally friendly technologies from tire companies? "That’s not really the role of the RMA. Remember, here in the United States the RMA has eight tire member companies that cooperate together on industry issues that are common to them. But that’s where the cooperation has to stop, because, along with being good corporate citizens together with the RMA, we’re competitors against each other every day."

What are some of the major changes you’ve seen in the tire industry in the last 25 years? "The industry has been, to some degree, its own worst enemy in terms of capacity to demand. We’ve always been an industry of oversupply, so we haven’t really been able to maintain any return discipline. But if you look at the industry 25 years ago... there has been a lot of consolidation and changes. A lot of companies that were well-established, like General Tire, Firestone and BFGoodrich have now been merged and consolidated with other companies, which is a positive thing, because there are fewer players making the decisions on the marketplace."

"The distribution channels have changed enormously over that period of time, so have the products changed. Twenty-five years ago, the basic construction was either bias or bias belted. The thing that has lagged the furthest behind, until the last eight or ten years, has been the manufacturing process, which was pretty antiquated. Now we’re seeing automation come into manufacturing, which really is the key to the future of the industry to make it a profitable, viable long-term industry.

"I think we’ll see further consolidation. I think the distribution channels are pretty stable. There’s only one real area for major improvement, and I think that’s in the manufacturing process and in innovations like using other raw materials in place of petroleum-based materials. Using materials that are renewable versus nonrenewable, like citrus oil instead of petroleum. Things that will help the environment."