Fleet News

Treading through the tyre maze

A BEWILDERING array of tyres awaits fleet decision-makers brave enough to consider reworking their tyre replacement policies.

Not only is there an army of tyre suppliers available, but each manufacturer has pages of different tyre types and sizes, each of which provides a wide range of benefits.

This has been made more complicated by the arrival of a range of budget brands, which offer cheaper motoring but may not offer the same long-life as mainstream rivals.

According to Fraser Hudson, managing director of Mangoletsi, the Alfa Romeo and Fiat dealership in Knutsford, Cheshire, wider choice has brought both benefits and pitfalls for fleets – wider choice and lower cost versus varying levels of quality and tyre life.

Mangoletsi has invested in a new tyre programme for its customers, with a new, full-time dedicated tyre expert on site.

Hudson has also produced a guide to the main fleet tyre brands available in the UK, providing an insight into the history and products of the major players.

The guide, covering brands including Bridgestone, Firestone, Continental, Goodyear, Michelin and Pirelli, also lists any smaller brand names introduced by the major players that can help improve the choice available to fleets.

Hudson said: 'In the not-too- distant past, the decision of which brand of tyre to choose was relatively simple. You had a solid core of household brand names – Goodyear, Dunlop, Michelin – plus a few budget alternatives. However, in recent years, the tyre market has become much more sophisticated and now UK consumers have an absolute plethora of brands to choose from – more than 150 in fact. But there are several reasons behind the manufacturers' thinking in creating such a situation.

'Firstly the tyre industry in other parts of the world, particularly Asia, has grown rapidly and all these manufacturers are now looking to export their goods to Western Europe. The UK has been more susceptible than most to the influx of tyres from the Far East as the UK contains the most economy-oriented consumers in Europe.

'Also important has been the growth of the tyre wholesale trade in the UK, with wholesalers being constantly on the lookout for new brands to represent.'

Hudson added: 'This, together with the growing importance of national retail chains such as Kwik-Fit, has led to an increase in demand for private brands, exclusive to one particular wholesaler or retailer.'

The most important reason for the increase in the number of tyre brands, however, is the fact that the UK consumer has become much more sophisticated.

Faced with increased competition, the tyre manufacturers have realised they can no longer expect their premium brands to be all things to all men, Hudson points out.

The high-technology premium-price leading brands are no longer capable of maintaining sales amongst the proportion of end users whose main priority is price.

Hudson said: 'With the realisation that the majority of the economy-priced tyres being imported from Eastern Europe and the Far East are of good quality, consumers are switching in droves to alternative brands.

'The leading manufacturers, aware of the need to avoid a collapse in the price of their brands, have now realised they need to adopt increasingly complex multi-brand marketing strategies if they are to maintain their market share.'

The top five tyre manufacturers and what they produce

Bridgestone/Firestone

Bridgestone and Firestone are the two main brands offered by Bridgestone/Firestone UK. The Bridgestone brand is the most upmarket of the two brands, being targeted in the UK more at the high-performance consumer.

Firestone is better known by the general public than Bridgestone and now appears to be positioned more as a mid-range brand in terms of price. Firestone has a relatively good share of original equipment fitments and performs well in the standard tyre sector. The brand is also well positioned for sale to company car fleets, thanks to the brand's competitive pricing.

Other Bridgestone-manufactured tyres are Dayton, the company's economy brand, Europa, a brand created for Firestone's network of wholesale dealers, and First Stop, a mid-range brand created specifically for the First Stop network of dealers, all independent dealers affiliated to Bridgestone/ Firestone. Bridgestone also has a shareholding in the Turkish tyre manufacturer Lassa.

Continental

Continental's two main brands are Continental and Uniroyal. In addition to this, they own the mid-range brand Semperit and the US-manufactured General brand, well known in the 4x4 market. In the medium-price sector, Continental owns the Viking and Gislaved brands, which are sold specifically through networks of independent tyre dealers on a national basis. In addition to this, Continental markets two economy brands – Barum and Mabor, which originate from Continental's factories in the Czech Republic and Portugal respectively.

Goodyear

Following a co-operation agreement with the Japanese manufacturer Sumitomo Rubber, Goodyear now operates two premium brands in Europe, the house brand – Goodyear – and the Dunlop brand. In addition, Goodyear possesses five second-line products. The Fulda brand originates from the Goodyear factory in Fulda, Germany, and is marketed in the UK as an economical alternative primarily in the high-performance and 4x4 sectors. Kelly, meanwhile, is the company's main economy line.

In addition, there are three out and out budget lines, including Lee, which is sold through Goodyear's Hi-Q distribution network, and Debica, which originates from a recently acquired factory in Poland. The final brand that should be taken into account is Sava, the Slovenian tyre manufacturer recently acquired by Goodyear. Two further second line brands – India and Pneumant – are controlled by Goodyear as a result of the agreement with Dunlop.

Michelin

In addition to Europe's leading brand, Michelin, the French manufacturer market four other car tyre brands. These include the BF Goodrich brand which is the market leader and a premium brand in the 4x4 sector. Goodrich car tyres are also sold as an economy line. Also marketed by Michelin is Kleber, a mid-range brand, and Riken, best known as an economy high performance tyre and now sold in the UK exclusively by Kwik-Fit. At the extreme budget end of the market, Michelin sells the Kormoran brand, manufac-tured in Poland by the company's Stomil-Olzstyn subsidiary. In the truck tyre market, Michelin also owns the Hungarian brand Taurus.

Pirelli

Pirelli markets two economy brands in addition to the premium brand Pirelli – Ceat and Courier. The Armstrong brand of 4x4 tyres is also owned by Pirelli, as is the Metzeler brand of motorcycle tyres.

Independents

Despite the multiple branding strategies of the world's largest manufacturers, the majority of the world's tyre brands are still manufactured independently (although many use technology bought from the leading producers). Brands made by independent manufacturers include Avon and Cooper (now Cooper-Avon Tyres), Hankook, Kumho, Toyo, Vredestein, Yokohama. Source: Mangoletsi

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