An Insight into Tires and Their Problems in Europe

Jan. 11, 2018

The National Tyre Distributors Association (NTDA) recently held its annual conference, which, although traditionally staged in the UK, represents the ongoing current issues in the tire industry throughout Europe (at least until the Brexit negotiations are completed) and attracts an extensive and diverse range of delegates.

Taking center stage at the event were a series of speakers making intensive presentations on a number of important market sectors. I am always keen to accept my invitation to the conference as it provides me with a good benchmark on how the industry is faring and developing in Europe.

At the conference, the NTDA launched its very first tire safety manifesto for Europe entitled “Our Manifesto for Change,” which was presented by Stefan Hay, the NTDA’s chief executive. He pointed out that the European tire industry is currently experiencing a lot of changes and the current financial and political uncertainty looks set to continue at least for the immediate future. He said, “In recognition of this difficult situation we have produced our own special manifesto which incorporates six individual pledges including tire safety, improvement of tire technicians’ skills and building up additional trust with motorists.

“Before releasing the manifesto, the NTDA carried out intensive independent research into all aspects of tire safety, part-worn tires and drivers’ attitudes toward tire safety which has resulted in a comprehensive, pragmatic plan that outlines a clear pathway for the future.”

Delegates were left in no doubt that the NTDA’s main priority for tire safety was to enforce a “total ban” on part-worn (PW) tires which they consider to be out of control because many PW dealers consistently ignore the regulations and sell tires that have not been tested for under-inflation or thoroughly inspected for damage. Hay also explained that in Europe there is a large part of the PW market where tires are not even marked as part-worn and often stored in secret tire mountains in areas that are sometimes open to outside elements, therefore causing further deterioration.

To combat this alarming situation the NTDA is looking to introduce an industry-backed certification scheme that audits tire dealers who are compliant with the legal requirements. The scheme would also allow the NTDA to introduce further safety proposals.

Quality mark

Hay adds, “We firmly believe that the part-worn market could be made significantly safer by creating a ‘quality mark’ which would only be available to industry-inspected and accredited dealers and effectively replace the current generic part-worn mark which is completely open to abuse.”

It was also interesting to note that the NTDA is currently working with the Tyre Recovery Association (TRA) in its launch of a special protocol aimed at ensuring that no tire is offered for resale that is not legally compliant. It also supports the action of legitimate dealers in drilling holes in end-of-life tires to prevent them from being sold as PWs. Hay concluded, “The NTDA is determined to eventually achieve a complete ban on part-worn tires in Europe. It will not happen straight away, but we are confident it will happen eventually and we are ready to take our campaign forward for as long as it takes to reach our objective.”I was also fortunate to arrange an exclusive interview with Hay during the conference to discuss his overall opinion of the European tire sector and how it will evolve in the future. He started off by talking about tire manufacturers and stated that according to the latest statistics from the Tyre Industry Federation’s “Factbook,” there are significantly more than 300 tire brands currently available that are sourced from almost 50 countries. He added, “When it comes to sales,  the latest published statistics for 2016 from the European Tyre and Rubber Manufacturers Association (ETRMA) indicates a healthy sales growth for the large producers such as Bridgestone, Michelin, Goodyear, Continental, Pirelli, Sumitomo and Yokohama.”

Rise in internet sales

“In 2014 and 2015 there was a 1% growth in tire production along with a 5.3% increase in commercial tire sales and 5.7% increase in car tire sales. It is also worth remembering that the internet plays an important role in the route to market for tire manufacturers, distributors and retailers plus a growing number of drivers are choosing to buy their tires online and have them fitted at a local tire center or garage of their choice.”

The budget tire sector has continually increased with more and more brands from the Far East and in particular China being imported into the UK and Europe and there are now clear signs this popularity may come under threat in the future due to the predicted rise in raw material prices. This means PW tires may become an even more attractive option for motorists who place cost as their primary influence when buying tires.

When I asked Hay if he could provide any proven statistics relating to the threat of part-worn tire in Europe he was keen to point out that it is difficult to obtain true figures for all European countries but he was able to give an insight into the problem in the UK which is known to be reflected throughout Europe.

Hay says, “There are three confirmed sources for PWs – imports, vehicle recovery companies and tire retailers and a popular option is for imported winter tires being sold in the UK which are not necessarily suitable for general motoring. While PW’s from vehicle recovery sources usually come from cars that have been scrapped and had their tires removed plus some tire retailers are known to favor replacing tires on customers’ vehicles then selling the old tires into the part-worn market. They will also sell PWs sourced from vehicle recovery companies.”

Illegal sales

The size of the part-worn market in the UK is currently estimated as an estimated 4.5 million tires sold each year and it could be as high as six million tires. Also, 97% of PW’s are being sold ‘illegally’ and 34 per cent are offered for sale with dangerous and potentially life threatening defects. Up to 50% of motorists will actually admit their choice of replacement tire is influenced by price and Hay believes another crucial problem is the distinct lack of tire safety knowledge and a surprisingly high number of drivers are unsure how to accurately determine the condition of a tire.

Therefore, it is hardly surprising that 5,375 motorists were killed or injured during the past five years in accidents directly caused by illegal, defective or under-inflated tires plus recent safety checks carried out by Trading Standards reveal that  six out of seven part-worn tires for sale had faults with two being seriously damaged due to under-inflation, another two had bead damage and another contained water!!

Looking at the above statistics it is easy to understand this massive problem and why the NTDA’s Manifesto is openly calling for a Total Ban on PW’s.

Another interesting presentation was by Peter Taylor – Secretary General of the Tyre Recovery Association (TRA) who spoke about the current issues surrounding Responsible Tire Recycling in the UK and Europe. He pointed out that although the professional and responsible recycling of tires is a difficult and harmful situation that nobody wants to talk about (known in Europe as ‘the elephant in the room’) which is not given anywhere near enough attention and thought.

The TRA was formed in 2004 to provide a common sense approach to tire recycling and support the Tyre Industry Federation’s ‘Responsible Recycler Scheme’ which guarantees that all tires collected, recycled or reprocessed are disposed of or re-used in an environmentally friendly manner through best practice methods.

Landfill directive

Taylor says, “With tyre recovery markets continuing to grow and develop, the European Union (EU) Landfill Directive is being applied right across Europe plus a new international dimension for the service will continue to evolve. At the TRA we have the independent ability to pursue and put in place broader objectives at both industry and Government levels to generate performance data specific to its member’s interests from both tire collectors and recyclers.

“We are also in constant contact with the Environment Agency and have recently been successful in gaining consideration for establishing specific fire prevention plans to regulate tire stack heights and impose sensible distances between the stacks. It is absolutely essential that the TRA protects the UK and European waste stream recovery infrastructure and we will continue to work with appropriate partners to achieve this aim.”

Finally, on a slightly lighter but just as important note. Steph Savill of The Foxy lady Drivers Club in the UK made an interesting presentation about the underestimated role played by women drivers in the European tire market and how they feel they are being treated in tire centres and garages. Foxy Lady is the only motoring club just for females in the UK and Steph explained that in general, women buying tires are more likely to trust advice and recommendations rather than base their decision on price alone.

Not regulated

She says, “I am always surprised that so many areas in garages and tire shops are not regulated and mechanics do not have to be licensed to carry out work on vehicles including fitting tires. Since forming the club I have become passionate about tire safety and in particular tread depths and pressures but realise that many women drivers are under the misguided impression that  the annual MOT test takes care of these matters and do not realise or appreciate that a car doing regular high mileage needs ongoing attention to its tires.”

Savill also mentioned that many women arrive at tire centres fully expecting to be sold products and services they do not actually need, be patronized or overcharged so immediately they are suspicious, assertive and sometime aggressive when buying tires. Adding, “The big question is – how can tire retailers make themselves more appealing to women customers? Well in my opinion a good start would be to employ more females in their businesses with a special brief to make the premises more ‘female friendly. They could also encourage the hiring of female staff including for tire fitting and it would be brilliant to see more women actually selling tires.”

This was a very interesting, compelling and thought invoking conference that seemed to ask a lot of searching questions of the UK and European tire market. The response will be interesting!    ■

John Stone has been working within the global tire industry for the past 26 years. In 2004 he launched his own consulting company, Sapphire Media Services.

To read more European Notebook articles, see:

Why Fix Them When You Can Protect Them? AlloyGators, as an example, Protect Wheel RIms

A New 'Groundbreaking' Development in Tire Tread Measurement

Tire Aging Tire Battle Gets Closer to Victory in Europe

A New Era Dawns for Mobile Tire Fitting in Europe