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The start of the project by the new R&D centre at Apollo Vredestein, the multinational increasingly committed to developing new technologies and consolidating its presence in the West

Duilio Damiani

DYNAMISM and inventiveness are the prerogatives of ambitious and competent industries. Qualities that are synonymous with success and innovation and cannot be avoided by anyone who wants to take up the global challenge in a complex and considerably changed context like today’s.
Naturally, these characteristics are essential for all companies that want to be the main players in the tyre world, especially emerging firms that must possess enormous dynamism if they want to quickly capture a significant share of the market, also on the Old Continent.  One of the most active and enterprising protagonists of recent years is undoubtedly the Apollo Group, a multinational that landed on European shores in 2010 thanks to the acquisition of Vredestein of Holland, the brand with perfect characteristics for penetrating the complex and demanding western markets.
Set up in 1972, the name of the group is now widely known and identifies a company that is one of the most active and committed, starting with the acquisition of Dunlop South Africa in 2006 to the recent testimony to its corporate structure consolidation operations including, in particular, the Research and Development Centre in Holland, the first to be based in Europe.  Under the aegis of Apollo Tyres, in addition to Vredestein and  Dunlop South Africa (32 markets within the continent), the company also holds the Kaizen, Maloya and Regal brands. In 2011 its turnover stood at 2.5 billion dollars and it employs a total of 16,000 people at its seven manufacturing centres - three in India, three in South Africa and one in Holland. The latter is dedicated to the manufacture of tyres mainly for the European market. Although half of its turnover comes from the domestic market, Apollo exports its tyres globally and with negotiations currently underway for the acquisition of Cooper, the American brand which has its head office and factory at Findlay, Ohio, it is actively evaluating and implementing strong expansion in the Far East and a massive presence also in North America.

At the present stage, technological growth rather than commercial expansion goes through Apollo Tyres Global R&D BV based at Enschede in Holland. “The inauguration of this global R&D centre is an essential stage of a journey that will make us a tyre manufacturer with turnover of 6 billion dollars by 2016. The primary role of this R&D centre is to introduce leading-edge technologies and develop tyres for the cars and vans of the future”,  stated Onkar Singh Kanwar, chairman of Apollo Tyres Ltd, during the inauguration in January.  This first stage of the start-up will involve about a hundred specialized technicians and engineers in the development of new technologies and their numbers will be increased to a total of 150 in the short term.
With the aim of fostering synergies, supporting the company’s ambitions for growth and accelerating and strengthening its entry into new markets, Apollo Tyres has rationalized its R&D centres by concentrating company know-how in only two centres: the one just opened at Enschede for the car sector, and the one dedicated to commercial vehicles at Chennai in India. Two strategic locations for the current market and for future prospects, given that Asia and the Middle East account for almost 59% of the global market for commercial vehicle tyres whereas Europe and North America represent 51% of the car tyre market. Both R&D centres will work in close contact with OEMs, customers, testing centres, suppliers of raw materials and research institutes. “Even though we have amalgamated our research and development resources in the various strategic markets” – said Neeraj Kanwar, vice chairman and managing director of Apollo Tyres -  “more localized teams will work on the personalization of each product based on the needs of the specific geographical area and testing will be done in local conditions. In the future, research will increasingly be the starting off point for our vision and we plan to raise the amount allocated to this sector to 3% of our turnover.”
An example of the results achieved in research comes from the Group’s significant involvement  in experiments that are already at an advanced stage. They concern new raw materials for making tyres that are extracted from dandelions (Taraxacum officinale) and from the desert shrub Guayule, two alternative sources to the rubber tree that grows mainly in Asia and is now struggling to meet the world’s growing needs. It appears that natural European rubber extracted from these two plants is able to integrate with and, in the future, perhaps substitute the current source with a natural solution that is more widely and immediately available. As a partner of the European EU-Pearls project ( funded by the European Commission FP7 KBBE Program, the Apollo-Vredestein factories in Holland have produced the first tyres in the world to be made from rubber extracted from dandelions and guayule (the all-season Quatrac Lite 155/65 R14). In the coming months they will undergo strict evaluation tests which could lead to significant, not to mention “historic”, mass production.

Ambitious models
The most representative range, which met with the approval of the western market and has been distributed in its latest configuration since last year, is an all-season Quatrac 3 tyre, Vredestein’s response to the variable weather conditions typical of most of Europe. With an asymmetric, non-directional tread and well-differentiated summer-winter sides thanks to an outermost section that is designed to give support for driving on dry and wet roads in the summer and a more sculpted innermost section to provide traction when it is cold and in bad weather, Quatrac 3 tyres are marked M+S and also have the Snowflake symbol. The innovative compound, the outcome of advanced research promoted by the Group’s development centres, is an excellent compromise for changeable climates, guarantees perfect grip in any condition and stays soft and flexible even in sub-zero temperatures, as demonstrated by the latest independent European tests that put Quatrac 3 in first place (AutoBild 2011).
Available in a wide range of sizes, with no fewer than 70 for cars from 145 to 235 mm, 70 to 40 shoulder ratio and rims from 13 to 17 inches, Quatrac 3 also has a version for  SUVs (17 references from 225/70 R16 to 255/55 ZR 19) and a Run Flat version with a reinforced bead in four different sizes for the most popular car models that use this technology.

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