Yup. We’re talking about tires again. Why? Because they’re important. And with the U.S. Environmental Agency’s recent SmartWay list expansion, we are about to experience a flood of cheap tires on the market.
Consider this: Last year there were 325 steer, drive, and all-position tires on the EPA’s list. Now, in the last twelve months alone, 287 tires were added to the list.
The verified list now stands at 612 tires, which is an 88 percent increase over 2014. In addition, the number of tire brands has swelled from 93 to 193 – a staggering jump. One must ask, where are these tires coming from, and how are they affecting the current market?
Made in China
As the data proves, a large majority of these tires are coming in from China. And while they may offer a broader selection, should we be standing up and cheering about it?
The fact is, retreaders are nervous. Fleets are also nervous because the pull of a cost-saving option could result in safety problems. Although the prices of some of these tires are too low to discard, it’s important to ask yourself what you’re not getting for your money.
Many of the new entrants on the list can’t even be found on a Google search. Some that can be found are only available on E-Bay, and even then only from container lots, paid in advance of shipping.
That being said, it’s important to note that not all Chinese-made tires are bad options. Several Chinese manufacturers have been operating in the North American market for some time, and they know what it takes to stay competitive here.
Learning the Market
A lot of Chinese manufacturers have done their research. They know that North American fleets will not be returning customers if they have repeated bad experiences with a tire. If they want to rake in American dollars, they know they need to increase the quality of their product.
Familiar names like Sailun, Hercules, and Roadmaster are all manufactured in China, yet they are commonly found in fleet yards nationwide. The difference is in cost.
Even the aforementioned brands will come in at a price point higher than the newer, cheapest options on the SmartWay list. Some of them, such as DoubleCoin, are solid Tier 3 tires trying to get up to Tier 2.
What $150 Gets You
So, let’s say you are considering buying one of the cheaper, $150 tire models. What are you (or aren’t you) getting for your money? In many cases, $150 tires only make sense when $150 is all you have to spend on a tire.
Keep in mind that even if a tire is on the SmartWay list, it may still be shipped in without a DOT code, which makes them illegal to sell in the U.S. The tire warranties are also questionable. Fleets must also look at cost-per-mile. Often, the cheapest option in the short term is not cost effective in the long term.
Also consider that many cheap, imported tires cannot be retreaded. So once they’re done, they’re done. But this doesn’t mean a flood of imports doesn’t have retreaders looking over their shoulder.
Should Retreaders Worry?
It’s hard enough for retreaders to convince fleets to retread their tires. It might get even harder once fleets realize they can buy a brand-new tire for the same price as a retread.
While this shouldn’t be as much of a problem for retreaders working with big, Top 100 fleets, it’s those working with smaller fleets that might have to worry. Cost-saving options are much more appealing to fleets who don’t have a huge mound of cash and credit backing them, as many of the largest fleets do.
Although a flood of cheap imported tires killed the passenger car industry, don’t expect them to take too much of a bite out of commercial retreading interests, mainly because the largest, most profitable fleets will never use cheap tires and will continue to retread.
SmartWay or the Highway
So you may be wondering how these potentially illegal tires got on the SmartWay list. Surprisingly, SmartWay does not do its own testing, and instead relies on the word of the manufacturers.
It’s actually quite easy to get on the SmartWay list. As long as a manufacturer can prove their tire saves at least 3 percent or more on fuel, it’s in.
Could this flood of cheap tires on the SmartWay list result in higher incident numbers down the road? Only time will tell.