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Special on the Reifen show in Essen

At the fair in Essen producers came out in full-strength with a strong emphasis on transport vehicles, consumer novelties especially winter and all-season with TPMS in the foreground; and then market analysis and trends, here is the report

Francesco Lojola

In a European sector that finally breathes thanks to the rebound in the first quarter of 2014, this was the occasion for the first analysis, comparisons and considerations to complement an extensive showcase of products, from tires and wheels to automotive equipment and tools for manufacturing and rebuilding: spotlight on Essen, that during the four days Reifen exhibition became, for the entire tire industry, the centre of the world.

And so the 28th edition, staged in the German city from May 27 to 30, saw its role reconfirmed, with the presence of the top 20 producers among the 670 participating exhibitors, attracting almost 20 thousand visitors (64% of these coming from 130 different countries, according to the organizers).

A focus on trends in a sector in which differences between local markets are shrinking and that trusts, through technical and regulatory innovations, to exit from stagnation with renewed vigor. Back to square one, in short, after a 2013 just as disappointing as the year before: for Etrma members, the association of European tire and rubber products manufacturers, the total output amounted to 192.7 million pieces for cars, 1% less than in 2012, 7.7 million for two-wheelers, a growth of 2%, nearly 1.7 million for agricultural use, with a plus 1%, and more than 8.8 million for trucks and buses, a plus 8% that should however be considered against the -19% suffered the previous year.


First quarter, a positive signal

Numbers, these, to which a further 20% between car and truck tires needs to be added taking into account imports from the far east. This is the picture of the European market in 2013 with a total of about 254 million tires being sold( estimates c/o Continental), the same level as in 2008, and less than the 291 million registered in 2011. 

This is due to, in a context of prolonged economic crisis, the general decline in traffic, but also the widespread performance improvements of tires and, in addition, the mild winter period and consequent reduction in seasonal replacements.

From the first quarter of the year a positive signal, with consumer and truck segments, respectively, up 10 and 16 percent, which brings ETRMA to foresee a year-end progress between 3 and 4% over 2013.

In the heavy goods vehicle sector, the increased competitiveness of Asian manufacturers has significantly increased (it is estimated that of the 150 million tires worldwide, China alone now totals over 20),this has prompted premium manufacturers to innovate both procedures and products aimed at improving the lifespan of tires and running costs, as well as services covering the entire life cycle of a tire.

This was evident at Reifen, with Bridgestone’s theme-stand (and Bandag) dedicated to heavy duty vehicles and the brand’s first agricultural tire, the Vt-Tractor; priority of the transport sector was evident also in the windows of Michelin and Pirelli, followed by, among others, the latest Gt Radials.


Truck tires at the top             

The latter launched the new Gsw226 the first long distance winter tire designed for steering axles, and the Gtl925 low profile for mega trailers.

And while Michelin has condensed its offer for trailer tires X Multi T and the BibLoad range for hard surfaces for agricultural vehicles, and Vredestein with its tractor tire Faktor-S, Bridgestone has also introduced a whole new generation of Firestone truck tires (respectively for steering axle, drive axle and trailer Fs422, Fd622 and Ft522 replacing the FS400, FD600 and Tsp3000), while Pirelli has launched the evolution of the 01 series: which already accounts for 58% of sales in the heavy duty sector for the Bicocca company which relies on durability and safety: the second generation R: 01, coach tires H: 01 and the all-season for trailers and semi-trailers St: 01); next, the all-new range of hot and cold Novatread retreaded tires only on Pirelli casings for Italy in cooperation with Marangoni. To Bandag, who proposed the new line of FuelTech treads with lower rolling resistance (Rr) for drive axle and trailer, the Rovereto manufacturer replied with a flurry of new high performance and economic compounds, from the brand’s premium cured Marix Md National Grip 3. In a retreads market that still struggles, performance and rolling resistance must compete with new tires. Moreover, the difference of only two classes in the rolling resistance grading means more consumption, equal to the price of a tire.


Online, forward in Europe        

Shifting the focus on the consumer, the value of the European market affected by the economy recession is increasingly coming under pressure from the internet, already able to contribute to the sales of goods in the premium segment. At the same time, they feature a growing choice in the sub-segments from UHP summer tires alongside eco-friendly "green" models, competition tires, as well as winter models designed for specific climactic areas.

An increasing complexity of products on the market should be accompanied by a more advisory role by the tire retailer. Moreover, not only consumer habits indicate sharp changes, but also the possibility of having a single currency allowing consumers to buy over the border is redefining the geography of the market and the dynamics of competitiveness.

According to the most reliable analysis, today between 8% and 10% of European sales is ordered online. And between 25% and 40% of European consumers consult the web before any purchase. Moreover, according to a recent survey by Brv (a German Association in the tire industry), nearly a third of the buyers choice of tires sees the price as the first discriminating, 23% look at tests published on online journals, 17 % look for specifications (European label in the first place), and 10% the advice and opinions collected from friends, forums and social groups. In fact, studies agree on the increasing popularity of the net as a sales channel, which by 2020 is expected to grow between 15 and 20%.

A menace for some, while for others already a business, as Tyre24,a marketplace reserved for professionals with more than a thousand active suppliers (manufacturers and wholesalers) and about 30 thousand dealer customers in 7 European countries, including Italy, and Germany where it has been able to carve out 80% of B2B ecommerce.

More business with Tpms (Tire pressure monitoring system)        

A special focus at the Reifen was dedicated to Tpms, elected chief topic of the event, just as the EU label was two years ago. Based on the statutory obligations that starting from November which requires the adoption of pressure sensors on all new cars out the factory, the emphasis here was on a showcase by Continental VDO, Schrader, Huf, and a dozen other suppliers. A special emphasis also on safety and environmental impact, useful to the specialist dealer who will soon have to become familiar with the TPMS.

Thus, on the one hand, the ADAC (German Automobile club) points out that underinflated tires by only 0.6 bar can halve the cornering stability of a car, and that even if only 4 percent of cars in the EU is in this condition, the induced increase in fuel consumption results in a waste of up to 3.1 billion liters.

On the other Brv calculates the additional costs of installing the TPMS system in about 250 Euros per vehicle; 45 € per year, however, for maintenance, compared to a savings of approximately 40 liters of fuel, roughly 65 Euros. Based on the experience in the United States where the pressure sensors have long been required, it is likely that it will take at least a season of trial stage before the tire dealers can manipulate them without damaging them and show familiarity with these electronic control systems.

Possible commercial opportunities are, in addition to service kits and more than retrofit kits, the sensors for winter tires replacing the original summer equipment. That is also true about all-season tires, greatly featured at Reifen by Kumho, Hankook, Maxxis, Apollo and Aelous all of them vigorously focusing on this segment, which shows great potential. Below, finally, a brief overview of the main news at Reifen among car tires.

Apollo Alnac 4G All Season

Available in 12 sizes from 185/55 R15 to 255/50 R17 with H and V speed symbols, the brand new all-season Hp Apollo alongside the new 4G Alnac Winter. To guarantee the all weather status, a hybrid mix of sipes on the inside of the shoulder and a limited number of straight groves on the outside.

Falken Azenis Fk453 Runflat

Newly presented to the market, the new Azenis FK453 Runflat range for mid-sized cars and sedans relies on Neo-T01 technology designed to reduce the weight and deformation of the tire, as well as on the geometry of the side walls designed to disperse less heat.

Goodyear Ultragrip 9

Dedicated to compact and medium cars, the Ultragrip 9 reduces rolling resistance and improves wet grip compared to the previous design, promising also equal handling on dry and wet. It’s on the market in 19 sizes from 14 "to 16".

Gt Radial Champiro Fe1

Hp tire for mid-sized cars with 14"to 17" wheels, the new Champiro FE1, available in fall, swells the summer designs of the brand promising longer life and performance that should make it a key product for the company.

Hankook Kinergy 4S

On the market since September in sizes from 14"to 18", the Kinergy 4S is an all-season tire for medium and compact cars with asymmetric design and a multi-sipes technology coupled with a high silica content.

Kumho Solus Ha31

The Korean company’s new all weather, credited with a sharp improvement from its predecessor, is intended for city cars and sedans in 35 sizes from 13 to 16 inches. Also for the same target, the new winter Wintercraft WP51, featuring 3d honeycomb sipes.

Maxxis Enegtra MEco3

Latest arrival among “eco friendly” tires, Maxxis’ new design will be presented at the end of the year in sizes from 13"to 16" with speed ratings T, H and V. It focuses, in addition to reduced rolling resistance, on grip and road handling in wet conditions.

Michelin Alpin 5

For the fifth generation Alpin winter tire, on sale from next fall, Michelin guarantees an improvement over its predecessor in both wet braking distance and resistance to hydroplaning as well as a better snow grip.

Nexen Winguard SnowG Wh2

Winter Hp with directional tread design, the new Nexen tire is available in 6 sizes from 14 inches to 17 inches, which will become 35 in a couple of years; to increase traction on snow and ice, the solution is a peculiar zigzag shoulder rib pattern.

Yokohama V905

Already proposed at the Geneva Motor Show, the last winter tire of the Japanese manufacturer features an active compound in a wider range of temperatures, a new design with many sipes and a lighter structure than its predecessor; measures 15 to 18 inches.

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