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April 29, 2022 11:00 AM, EDT

Winning the Hearts and Minds

Winning the hearts and mindswowwa/Getty Images

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When it comes to new ways of thinking, or a shift in mindset for a large group of consumers, the phrase “winning the hearts and minds” often comes up. For the provider, not only do you need to sell the customer a service or product, you have to convince them that it’s beneficial immediately and beyond. This seems to be the case with the tire manufacturers I spoke with this year.

With the innovations of telematics and advanced driver assistance systems, the tire industry has aligned itself to manufacture its products to keep up with the technology. In addition, tiremakers are taking notice of the latest trends that have grabbed hold of the logistics industry — last-mile delivery and electric trucks.

Michael Freeze

Freeze

It was hard not to notice the attention paid toward those two trends during American Trucking Associations’ 2022 Technology & Maintenance Council annual meeting in March. And for good reason, it is the future of the trucking industry. Clearly in the minds of the tire folks, there were plenty of new launches of lines that catered to the last-mile segment and electric vehicles. It’s a sign of the times.

“I think the big thing we’ve seen over the last two to five years, even before the pandemic, was the last-mile delivery. Those smaller, either regional or urban type trucks just blowing up. And then when you think of what’s happened during the pandemic, the whole e-commerce and everything even accelerated that,” said Cary Budzinski, senior director of North America Commercial Sales for Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co. “The other thing you have occurring is the range of electric vehicles and sustainability. Now, we also know that those vehicles are going to weigh more. There’s a lot of folks getting into that arena. So, what we decided a while ago is that we need to have tires that are specific not only for the last mile, but specific for the last-mile, electric vehicles.”

Although Budzinski noted the opportunity waiting for Goodyear — as well as other manufacturers including Yokohama Rubber Co. and Michelin, which also premiered lines of tires at the event — the concerns of the supply chain still linger. With an eye to sustainability, more tire manufacturers are returning to the process of retreading and applying it to today’s conditions.

Also, manufacturers are grappling with alternatives. In addition to natural and synthetic rubber, Cooper Tire & Rubber Co. has done grant research on materials derived from cactus or dandelion stem; however, it has not reached a critical mass for implementation.

“Those are all very viable long term, but the problem is they’re just not commercially viable yet. There still needs to be farms with enough cactus to grow and equipment to harvest it,” said Gary Schroeder, executive director of Cooper Commercial at Goodyear. “It is possible to make a tire like that, but to bring it to market, some more work needs to be to be done on alternative materials that are more environmentally friendly. So, I think as time progresses, these things will take a little time and courage.”

In the long view, tire manufacturers are aiming to keep pace with the fast-moving speed of technology, trying to win the hearts and minds of fleet managers by communicating that there are services and products that speak to their need to perform effectively in the trucking industry.

“The commercial trucking industry is going to continue to grow, and last mile and e-commerce will continue to grow. So, we’ve got to continuously look at and find ways to produce more tires,” Budzinski added. “Demand will have some ebb and flow over the next five or 10 years. But the one thing’s for sure, if I just drew a line from where we’re at today and where we’re going to be in 10 years, it’s going to be on an upward trajectory.”

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