A BREATH OF FRESH AIR
The 20/2013 Decree has had quite an impact on the wheel’s market: less red tape and more stringent approval rules. We spoke about some of the more important news for the sector with Corrado Bragagna, MD of Alcar, one of the sector’s leading players. Surprisingly, what came out is that, steel rims are by no means a thing of the past, actually….
An increasing number of cars leave the assembly lines with alloy wheels as standard equipment, while the number of car tuning enthusiasts is dwindling. And then came the 20/2013 Ministerial Decree, which sanctioned the compulsory approval of wheels to be sold on the Italian market, whether for cars or off-road vehicles. All this has significantly changed the aftermarket, at least as far as wheels are concerned. Pneurama spoke with Corrado Bragagna, MD of Alcar Italia, a subsidiary of one of the leading European wheel manufacturers.
First of all, could you give us an overview of the Italian aftermarket scenario?
Quite stable if we look at current figures. The 20/2013 Decree produced a reduction in the number of players in the market, eliminating (albeit not entirely) those operators involved in selling non-approved items and, at the same time, European anti-dumping excise duties on Chinese-made wheels has rebalanced the rules. It is therefore easier now to predict market flows. As for the type of clientele, the Italian market is quite different from other countries, especially those in Northern Europe, where tuning still guides the choice of the rims. Here, tuners are far less in number; in addition they seem to have more sober tastes, aimed at improving the original look of the car without distorting it (light tuning, for example using larger wheels). This need seems to be felt by other markets too, so much so that both our premium brands, AEZ and Dotz, follow this philosophy, which comes quite handy with Italian customers who often buy aftermarket wheels simply to have a second set of tires, for example winter tires that look as similar as possible to the original. This trend, though common among road cars, is now affecting also the SUV market, as drivers choose smaller wheels for the winter set, with narrower footprint so to have a greater pressure on the ground.
So, the 20/2013 Decree seems to have been a breath of fresh air, but from the manufacturers side….
Also, because only the most qualified operators are left on the market. But even from the customer's point of view things have improved, ensuring greater safety and freedom of choice. On the one hand, we have compulsory approval (ECE, according to EU regulation UN/ECE 124, which makes mandatory the perfect correspondence of the size to what is used as standard equipment), or NAD according to the Italian Decree DM 20/2013, which guarantees minimum quality standards; on the other hand, the NAD approval opens a door also to light tuning, providing an opportunity to customize a car with wheels and tires other than those shown on the registration certificate. If the desired wheels (as long as they falls within their application range) include tire sizes already indicated in the certificate, this need not be updated, it is sufficient to keep on board the installer's declaration on the correct assembly procedures and the certificate of conformity. Conversely, if the desired wheels have different sizes from the original ones, the certificate of registration must be updated. We have tried to make things easier by using an online configurator on our alcar.it website, which can be consulted, through the classic manufacturer/model/motorization description or even through the license plate number. The database used is rather comprehensive, covering all approved Alcar models. The configurator also takes into account our wheels’ compatibility with the TPMS system on the selected vehicle. Our dealers then provide the customer with other useful information, such as the need for regular checks on the maintenance and wear status of the fasteners, which are a very important safety element far too often underestimated.
In many fields, approval laws are an inextricable jungle. Is this the case in your sector too? How can customer be certain about purchasing a safe product?
In our sector, I must say, things are quite straight-forward. Each rim has an approval, and for this you need a certification body and an approval authority. In some countries, like Germany, these could be separated: the necessary certifications might come from a private entity such as Dekra or Tüv, while the approval comes directly from the Ministry of Transport (KBA). In Italy, everything falls under the umbrella of the Ministry of Infrastructure and Transport (Mit): the certifying body, being the CPA of the former MOT, and the approval authority, that is the Ministry itself. KBA documents are issued by a EU Ministry, and are therefore valid in all EU countries at least for all the parts that are in agreement with the different national legislations: it’s not necessary then to re-run the tests that have already been performed and certified by the KBA, but only integrate the data within the national legislation. For this reason, when we introduce a wheel produced and approved in another country within the European Union onto the Italian market, we go to the CPA with the document of the country of origin to activate the approval procedure for Nad. The Nad approval is necessary when the wheel is special, i.e. different size from standard equipment: special wheels are in fact regulated by national laws and not by European Laws. The wheel must show the approval markings indelibly: imprinted within the rim itself with laser marking or with a label that must not come off or deteriorate.
Rims have to undergo some rather complex approval tests. Can you describe them to us?
Sure. We perform laboratory tests and road tests, according to the procedures specified by the manufacturer. In the lab we perform accelerated cycles that replace road tests, perfectly repeatable and much faster to execute compared to real-life cycles. They range from bending (pushing on the centre of the wheel while rotating) to drum test for the complete tire/rim unit, then exposure to saline fog, which accelerates the aggression of atmospheric agents on metals and varnishes, followed by an impact test. Road tests, required for Nad approval, may include among others the moose test, braking with intervention of the ABS system, and a tightening control after overheating the brakes.
The aftermarket is not only made of light alloy wheels but also of steel rims. Who is the typical user of this product?
Normally city cars or even mid-range vehicles, often on a second set of winter tires. Our catalogue includes also designer steel wheels, like our Hybridrad, designed for special needs. I would also like to point out that steel wheels are a very particular product, which, although more economical than lighter alloy rims, are much more complex to produce: it is not the result of a unique metal fusion but the welding of two moulded components, the flanges and the drop-centre. A rather complex technology is needed and few have it, especially as the use of new high-strength steels have almost eliminated the weight difference with aluminium alloy wheels.
Finally, how is the distribution managed in Italy?
The relationship with Alcar Italy is direct: the retailer orders the wheels through our B2B portal as well as other more traditional contacts (e-mail, fax, telephone ...) and thanks to our quick and hustle-free logistics system, he will receive the goods in a very short time. If the item is not available in our warehouse, then it will be dispatched directly from our highly automated German centre, and even in this case the goods will normally reach the retailer within 48 hours.
AN INDUSTRIAL GIANT
Alcar Italia is the Italian subsidiary of the multinational Alcar, specialized in the production of aftermarket wheels, based in Hirtenberg, Austria (30 km from Vienna) and present in 16 European countries with 30 companies. The annual turnover stands at about 300 million euro, and 800 people are currently employed. The catalogue includes brands such as AEZ (premium wheels designed to resemble standard equipment), Dotz (very sporty premium line that winks at the most stylish forms of tuning with an additional line, DotzSurvival, dedicated to SUVs and 4X4s) and Dezent (designed for mid-range vehicles preserving the original look of the original rims). Alloy wheels are mainly produced in the Neuenrade plant in Germany, close to the new fully automated warehouse. The steel rims, instead, are produced in Manno, in the Canton of Ticino, Switzerland.