Sell More Green Tires: Get Ahead Now, Because These Tires Aren't Going Away

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When looking for ways to differentiate your tire business from the competition, you tell yourself everything is on the table. Does that include green tires?

“Green tire technology is another way to take the tire industry, which is often considered to be just a commodity industry, to a professional industry that provides real value and benefit for the consumer,” says Mike Leverington, general manager for Aeolus Tire America. “For the independent tire dealer, green tire technology can be a segment of products to promote that will help to differentiate one retailer from another.”

That’s advice from a man who has nothing to gain by his suggestion. Aeolus isn’t importing any passenger tires, green ones included, into the U.S. due to the tariffs imposed on passenger tires made in China.

“From my own field experience a majority of retail counter salesmen do not put a lot of emphasis on low rolling resistance green tire technology,” says Leverington. “The reason given is that consumers are not yet coming in and asking for the most fuel efficient tire for their car. They still are evaluating mileage, cost value.

“In my opinion, the independent tire dealer is one of the key components in accelerating the retail sales trend for the new fuel efficient green tire technology, which includes reducing carbon dioxide impact to the quality of our air and environment.

“Yes, it takes more selling effort, but most retailers need to overcome their comfort zone of selling products with only the least resistance. If the retailer does not believe in the technology and that it can make a difference, it is going to be difficult for that retailer to be part of the growing trend long term.”

Stacy Lindsey, original equipment product manager for Michelin North America Inc., acknowledges it’s not an easy sell.

“Rolling resistance alone is a tough concept to sell in the replacement market. It’s difficult to measure and quantify by an individual consumer, so the claims of savings are often met with skepticism,” Lindsey says. “Rolling resistance is an integral part of the overall value proposition for the customer. If they can get the tangible performances they value most, like long life, quiet ride, good handling, and save fuel at the same time, the value to the consumer is even more attractive.

[The Ecopia EP422 Plus is engineered with a combination of light and strong materials, which helps give consumers an extra 20 miles per tank of gas, Bridgestone says.]
The Ecopia EP422 Plus is engineered with a combination of light and strong materials, which helps give consumers an extra 20 miles per tank of gas, Bridgestone says.

“That is the path that Michelin takes. Sustainable mobility is delivering the performances that our customers demand while minimizing our impact on the environment.”

Brandon Stotsenburg, director of business development for American Kenda Rubber Industrial Co. Ltd., says dealers need to determine the “primary performance factors for the customer and vehicle based on the driver’s concerns. If there is a tire which meets the primary needs and also provides secondary benefits for fuel economy, it should be offered to assist closing the sale.”

Even though there are fewer customers focusing on fuel efficiency while buying tires, Stotsenburg says dealers need to be ready for those who do make it a priority. Offer them the tires and expected fuel savings and benefits they’re looking for to support the sale.

For Pirelli, talking to those environmental-minded customers means “being vocal about our green performance initiatives within our marketing plan is a plus overall,” says Stefania Masciullo, director of research and development for Pirelli Tire North America Inc.

And even though gas prices have risen steadily since mid-February, prices remain relatively low. But Brad Robison, product manager for Bridgestone Americas Tire Operations LLC, says that doesn’t mean consumers don’t want to save money.

“Although fuel prices have fallen, Americans still like to save at the pump,” Robison says. When the tire maker commissioned a consumer poll in March 2015, 94% of Americans were looking for ways to stretch their dollars, and 74% of drivers made changes to their driving habits and performed vehicle maintenance in an effort to increase gas mileage.

Andrew Briggs, senior director of tire business planning, product planning and sales operations at Yokohama Tire Corp., says gas prices aside, “a small segment still really cares about being environmentally responsible.”

Briggs also notes there’s an easy green message to share with every consumer. “Reminding the consumer of maintaining proper air pressure is the best way to be ‘green’ with the tires you have now.”

[Kenda says it is beginning to engage with auto manufacturers to understand their specific needs, and to determine how products like the Vezda Eco can earn OE fitments in the future.]
Kenda says it is beginning to engage with auto manufacturers to understand their specific needs, and to determine how products like the Vezda Eco can earn OE fitments in the future.

How to get to 54.5 mpg

Even if consumers are slow to accept the green tire anthem in the aftermarket, original equipment manufacturers are embracing it.

Auto manufacturers are under the gun to improve the fuel efficiency of their vehicles. As a result there’s more pressure on tire manufacturers to do their part in the final decade of development before the new Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) standards go into effect.

Achieving 54.5 mpg by 2025 will require a continued focus on improving rolling resistance. Lindsey from Michelin says, “The general rule of thumb is that it takes a 10% improvement in tire rolling resistance to improve mpg by 1%.

“The tires contribute about 20% to the overall rolling resistance of a vehicle, so one out of every five tanks of fuel goes directly to overcoming just the tires’ inertia. As a result, each new generation of vehicle pushes the limit of low rolling resistance technology in parallel with other automotive technologies to reach the 2025 CAFE targets,” Lindsey says. “I do not think you can overstate the impact the CAFE rules are having on automotive design.

“Tires are one of the most cost efficient investments an OEM can make to improve fuel economy, so we are an important partner in helping achieve their targets,” says Lindsey. “It’s bolt-on performance that the OEM can specify and spread out investment cost. The continuous challenge is to meet the OEM’s need to reach their CAFE targets while maintaining or improving the performance that consumers value most, like wear, traction and comfort. For Michelin, the consumer’s experience is the first priority when we develop a new generation of product and begin custom tuning it for our OE partners.”

Continental Tire the Americas LLC says the working relationship with OEMs is important “to understand the expected contribution of the tire to achieve their target mpg, and have a common understanding of how this target could potentially impact other tire performance characteristics.”

Briggs, from Yokohama, says, “We work with each of our OE partners on a case-by-case basis to generate the required performance, in all areas, for a specific vehicle.”

Bridgestone pushes its development of more fuel efficient tires too, but Robison says the company also works with OEMs to consider run-flat tires. “By equipping vehicles with run-flat tires, manufacturers can omit the spare tire. This reduces the weight of the car, contributing to improved fuel economy.”

[Demand for specialized green tires remains relatively low, says Briggs of Yokohama. “We believe that other characteristics will continue to drive purchase decisions, provided that attributes like rolling resistance meet segment specific levels of acceptability.”]
Demand for specialized green tires remains relatively low, says Briggs of Yokohama. “We believe that other characteristics will continue to drive purchase decisions, provided that attributes like rolling resistance meet segment specific levels of acceptability.”

Different styles with the same goal

Just as improving fuel efficiency has come as a result of varied approaches, tire companies offer a range of responses when describing the advancement that has resulted in their biggest improvement.

Continental says there hasn’t been one key development, but “a combination of measures in the tires in order to reduce material deformation and damping.”

Kenda’s Stotsenburg says drivers are “a combination of silica compound improvements combined with weight reductions due to improved tire construction.”

At Pirelli, Masciullo says, “The design of the tires with new materials delivers the most important benefit: rolling resistance reduction. Compound and reinforcement materials are able to reduce the hysteresis of a tire, the energy absorbed by the tire during the rolling phase. The new generation of materials also helps to reduce overall tire weight, which maintains or improves all the other performance aspects.”

Briggs at Yokohama says the company also has “pioneered research into aerodynamics of the tire for efficiency.”

For Bridgestone-brand tires, the focus has been to improve efficiency without compromising other qualities, Robison says. “Throughout the industry earlier generations of fuel efficient tires required some trade-offs in order to achieve enhanced fuel efficiency. We have been able to maintain premium all-season performance and deliver greater fuel efficiency in our tires due in part to Bridgestone’s proprietary NanoPro-Tech compound.”

Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co. says its fuel-efficient advancements encompass four broad categories: “materials, design, construction and tire manufacturing.”

[Goodyear estimates its Assurance Fuel Max tires for cars, minivans and utility vehicles saves up to 2,600 miles worth of gas over the life of a set of tires.]
Goodyear estimates its Assurance Fuel Max tires for cars, minivans and utility vehicles saves up to 2,600 miles worth of gas over the life of a set of tires.

A long-term goal

Fuel efficiency is the big driver for green tires, but it’s not the only factor. Finding Earth-friendly alternatives to petroleum’s synthetic rubber are considerations, too. Tire manufacturers say lower costs for traditional raw materials haven’t slowed their work to develop alternatives, though Stotsenburg, from Kenda, admits the return on that investment takes longer to recover when raw materials prices are lower.

Still, he says green tire innovation is a long-term investment. “Raw material pricing is short term, while green tire development is a longer term issue. Kenda is continuing to increase our spend on new material and compound development globally, and in our new technical center in Green, Ohio.”

Masciullo from Pirelli echoes the notion that development must go on, regardless of what happens with commodity prices. By next year the tire maker says green tires will make up almost half of the company’s tire sales revenue globally.

“For OEM products, we always aim to be in line with each manufacturer’s specific expectations. In developing pure replacement product we have been moving toward greater fuel economy as well, as it meets an important need for consumers who are becoming increasingly aware of the reduced financial and environmental impact of improved fuel economy.

“By 2017 the share of tire revenues from green performance tires — those tires with improved environmental performance — will account for 48% of Pirelli’s worldwide sales.”

[Continental features a fuel savings calculator on its website to help consumers see the savings in all of its tires with EcoPlus technology.]
Continental features a fuel savings calculator on its website to help consumers see the savings in all of its tires with EcoPlus technology.

All segments are in play

The push to develop more fuel-efficient tires covers every segment of the industry. Continental says “alternative fuel and self-driving vehicles are challenging the industry to develop ultra low rolling resistance tires, while maintaining other performance attributes.” Stotsenburg from Kenda sees a big future for “CUV, SUV and light truck (tires) as drivers, with a primary focus on the fast growing CUV segment.”

That may be the focus for the future, but already tire makers are creating a broad range of tires with green technology. Here’s a roundup of the latest products from the manufacturers who responded to our query for information.

Bridgestone Ecopia EP422 Plus: This is the latest product in the tire maker’s fuel efficient line. Backed by a 70,000-mile tread wear limited warranty, the EP422 plus is available in 43 sizes to fit rim diameters from 15 inches to 18 inches. It’s designed to fit coupes, sedans and wagons, and also fits some minivans.

Continental CrossContact LX20: Designed for light trucks, SUVs and CUVs, this is an all-season tire designed to provide long wear and enhanced fuel efficiency. It fits rims from 16 to 20 inches and includes EcoPlus technology, with polymers and silane that work at the microscopic level to improve tread wear, wet braking and fuel efficiency.

Goodyear Assurance Fuel Max: Goodyear says the Assurance Fuel Max for cars and minivans, and the Assurance CS Fuel Max for SUVs and CUVs, offers consumers all-season traction with fuel savings. A wet tread zone with dual grooves provides wet traction, while a dry zone enhances handling and grip.

Kenda Vezda Eco KR30: Designed for premium, high performance cars, the Vezda Eco’s tread compound is infused with a silica that reduces carbon dioxide emissions and rolling resistance. It comes in 35 sizes from 15 inches to 19 inches with H and V speed ratings, and 40 to 65 series.

Pirelli Scorpion Verde Plus: The tire features an optimized footprint and polymer and silica compound for balanced wear, and is made of a mix of materials to lower the weight and the rolling resistance. A pitch sequence lowers noise, and longitudinal grooves and lateral siping remove water for stability and better handling in all weather conditions.   ■

Survey says consumers want fuel efficient vehicles

The Consumer Federation of America (CFA) says consumers support Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) standards, and they’re not backing down despite fuel prices that remain relatively low. In a survey conducted for the CFA, 81% of respondents support the federal standards, and 52% express strong support.

At the same time, of the 1,094 vehicles from model year 2016, 56.1% earned an Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) fuel economy rating of at least 23 mpg. EPA ratings are the mileage figures presented on a car’s window sticker.

The CFA says gas guzzlers, those vehicles with fuel economy at 16 mpg or lower, dropped to 4% in 2016. Ten years ago, those vehicles represented almost one-third of 2006 model year vehicles.

“Over the past several years, rising standards have helped create a much more efficient U.S. auto fleet while preserving consumer choice on size, weight and performance,” the CFA said in its April 2016 fuel economy report. “The fact that the number of cars achieving more than 23 mpg has risen by 43% in the last 10 years is strong evidence that reaching a goal of 40 mpg by 2025 is attainable.” (The 40 mpg goal relates to the EPA fuel economy ratings, which are based on track tests and other real-world methods to predict a vehicle’s mileage. The more frequently cited 54.5 mpg for CAFE standards stems from laboratory testing. CFA estimates the 40 mpg EPA rating is equivalent to the 54.5 mpg CAFE standard.)

This article originally appeared on Modern Tire Dealer.

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