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NTSB hearing on tire safety, RMA, TIA officials on panel. NTSB plans tire safety symposium in December
By Miles Monroe
Washington- Representatives of the Rubber Manufacturers Association (RMA) and Tire Industry Association (TIA) will be panelists on the "Passenger Vehicle Tire Safety Symposium" being organized by the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB). The NTSB said the full list of panelists for the Dec.9-10 symposium will be issued the week before the event, but the RMA and TIA told Tire Business that Tracey Norberg, RMA senior vice president- regulatory affairs and general counsel , Dan Zielinski, RMA senior vice president- regulatory affairs and general counsel, Dan Zielinski, RMA senior vice president of training , will be panelists during the symposium. Earl Weener, a NTSB board member, will chair the symposium, which slated to run from 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. both days at the NTSB Conference Center in Washington, D.C. The symposium will discuss six tire-related topics: Tire disablement and vehicle dynamics. Identifying and analyzing tire disable-ment related crashes; Tire registration and recall; Tire aging and service life; Advances in tire technology; and Tire maintenance and consumer awareness. The NTSB said the symposium is an effort to gather information from industry and government experts on exactly what causes tires to fail. Mr. Rohlwing said he would participate in the panels on tire registration/ recall and tire maintenance/ consumer awareness. RMA and TIA spokesmen said they believe the NTSB is holding this symposium because of the two fatal highway accidents the agency is investigating that allegedly involve aged or defective tires. The NTSB has been investigating at least two tire- related crashes since last February. One crash occured on Feb.21,2014. On Interstate 75 near Lake City, FLA., When a Ford 15- passenger van rolled over, killing two adults and injuring several children.

 The van according to the NTSB. A 2004 Kia Sorento suffered a failure of a 10- year-old Michelin Cross Terrain tire, and the driver lost control swerving into the path of a school bus. Four of the Kia's five occupants died; the fifth Kia passenger and 30 of the 34 people aboard the school bus were injured. The symposium could revive the ongoing debate on whether tire aging is inherently dangerous. "We fully expect the NTSB to announce in December that people should replace all tires over six years of age, regardless of the depth of the tread on the tire," said Rob Ammons, a Houston personal injury attorney, in a press release issued Nov.13. It is important for tire industry experts to make their voices heard at the symposium, according to Mr. Rohlwing. "Trial lawyers are circlingthe pool and sense an opportunity," he said. "So we have to be there to tell our side of the story." The symposium will be free and open to the public, with no pre-registration, the NTSB said. It will offer a webcast of the symposium, which wil be archived for three months, and issue a transcript. The agency said it "may use information gathered from the symposium to develop safety recommendations that, if implemented, could reduce the incidence of tire disable-ment related crashes." Based on what NTSB officials told him, Mr. Zielinski said he believed a report emanating from the symposium findings will probably be available in the latter part of 2015.
Nexen's takin' it to the Next Level
Associate Dealer Program Debuts at SEMA
By William Schertz
Tire Business Staff
LAS VEGAS- Nexen Tire America Inc. has developed an associate dealer programm called Nexen Next Level, that it will launch Jan.1 for U.S. dealers. Announced at the 2014 Specialty Equipment Market Association (SEMA) Show in Las Vegas, the program will include cash-back incentives for all passenger, light truck/SUV, high performance and winter tires Nexen sells. Dealers will receive $5 for each high performance unit and $3 on all other qualify-ing products. "There are about a dozen other programs out there, so we've had some people to benchmark and take the best of all those programs." said Kyle Roberts, director of marketing for Nexen. "And ultimately what we wanted to do was make a program that was easy, simple-and, most importantly, lucrative for the dealers while also maintaining loyalty between our distributors and their dealers." In order to be elgible for cash back rewards, dealers must meet a sales volume average of 100 units per quarter and sell at least  400 units per year. According to Mr. Roberts, the program features one tier and one cash-back policy, but dealers can earn volume bonuses for payouts of up to $10 per high performance tire and $8 for other tires. Volume bonus levels are as follows: 400-799 units ($1extra); 800-1,399 units ($2); 1,400-1,999 ($3); 2,000-2,999 ($4); and 3,000-plus ($5). "These are some pretty generous payouts for a brand that's supposed to be playing in the value/ value-plus, so it's actually a very attractive program," Mr. Roberts said. In addition, Mr. Roberts said dealers are able to combine all of their locations to reach the highest volume bonus. In order to distinquish itself from other available associate programs, Mr. Roberts said Nexen Next Level will feature a quarterly sweepstakes program for participating dealers. Each tire a dealer purchases will earn him or her one entry into a drawing for a chance to win a grand prize of $1 million or one of several other prizes, including a truck and gift cards. "we wanted to do something fun and add a little excitement to the program, besides just the cash-back (rewards)," Mr. Roberts said. Other aspects of the program include a no- switching policy locking dealers into a primary distributor "unless there's an event that would allow Nexen to go ahead and step into that situation," Mr. Roberts said. The primary distributor must acount for 80 percent of a dealer's purchases. The firm has begun signing up dealers for the new program. More information on the program will be available soon on Nexen's website at nexentireusa.com. 
To reach this reporter: wschertz@crain.com; 330-865-6148; Twitter: @ Will_Schertz
Japanese tire makers bolster sales, profits on weakened yen.
AKRON- Toyo Tire & Rubber Co. Ltd. and Yokohama Rubber Co. Ltd. reported record sales and earnings for the nine months ended Sept.30, while Sumitomo Rubber Industries Ltd. (SRI) boosted its net income and sales for the period, thanks to lower natural rubber costs and a weakened yen.
Sumitomo
Sumitomo's operating income edged up 0.6 percent to $135.7 million, while net earnings rose 1 percent to $135.7 million, while net earnings rose 1 percent to $96 million for the quarter, ended Sept 30. Sales rose 7.6 percent to $1.94 billion. SRI's operating and net income for nine months were up 14.2 percent to $476.7 million and 28 percent to $307.8 million, respectively. Sales rose 8.2 percent to $5.59 billion. SRI said its results reflected reduced natural rubber prices and improvements in the export environment due to yen depreciation. SRI's tire business increased its operating income 14.6 percent through nine months to $428.5 million on 8.6- percent better sales of $4.86 billion.
Toyo
Toyo Tire's record sales and earnings for the nine months benefited from higher revenues, lower raw materials costs and favorable foreign- exchange rates. Operating income for that period jumped 37.8 percent to $327 million on 7.1-percent higher sales of $2.76 billion. Net income nearly quadrupled to $226.1 million. Operating income for the third quarter was up 15 percent to $120.3 million on 5.1-percent higher sales of $961.1 million, Toyo said, while net income hit 75.8 million, a turnaround  from a  net loss in the 2013 period. Toyo's results reflected a strong performance in the tire business unit, which reported a 44.8- percent jump in nine-month operating income to $305.2 million and an 8.6- percent increase in sales to $2.18 billion. Toyo attributed the improvements to unit sales gains in its domestic replacement business and in its key overseas businesses, including North America, where unit sales and revenue increased due to "strong" of higher value-added SUV tires. The company's operating income in North America increased 26.2 percent for the nine months to $78.8 million on 14- percent higher sales of $1.14 billion, for an operating ratio of  6.9 percent. Toyo said its business overlook for fiscal 2014 remains unchanged: 8-percent sales gain to about $2.85 billion and a 22- percent jump in operating income to about $438 million. Net in-come is expected to more than double to nearly $270 million.
Yokohama
Yokohama Rubber reported 6.5- percent high-er operating income of $306.4 million on 4.4- percent better sales of $4.13 billion, while net income jumped 27.4 percent to $239.6 million for the nine-month period. Driving the record sales were gains in OE tire business in Japan and growth in overseas markets. Operating income in the third quarter dropped 23.8 percent to $79.6 million despite 2.2-percent better sales of $1.4 billion. Net income rose 5.8 percent to $66.9 million. Yokohama reported that sales in North America increased 6.1 percent to $1 billion, but operating income in North America fell 49 percent to $18.3 million. For the full year, Yokohama is sticking with its earlier projections that net sales will climb 5.5 percent over fiscal 2013, with operating and net income rising 11.2 and 20 percent, respectively.
RMA: Nearly 12% of cars have bald tires
Washington- Nearly 12 percent of U.S. motorsists drive on at least one bald tire, according to a new Rubber Manufacturers Association Survey. The percentage is essentially unchanged from two years ago, when the RMA last surveryed U.S. drivers about the condition of their tires. At that time, the RMA said the number of drivers on bald tires had risen from one in 10 in 2010. The RMA's 2014 Tread Depth Survey sampled more than 3,400 American drivers regarding the tread depth on their tires, the association said. Baltimore- at 21.1 percent- was the city with the greatest percentage of vehicles with worn-out tires, the RMA said, followed by Birmingham, Ala. (20.9 percent); San Diego (18.5 percent); Oaklahoma City (18.2 percent); Baton Rouge, LA. (16.2 percent); Norfolk, Va., and Houston (tied at 16 percent); Richmond, Va. (15.4 percent); Minneapolis (14 percent); and Dallas/ Fort Worth, Texas (13.8 percent).
COOPER COMPLETES CCT SALE
Findlay- Ohio-

Cooper Tire & Rubber Co. has completed the sale of its 65- percent interest in its Cooper Chengshan (Shandong) Tire Co. Ltd. (CCT) joint venture to China's Chengshan Group Co. Ltd. for approximately $262 million. The sale price is net of taxes and includes dividends in accordance with previously announced option agreement, Cooper said. The dealer includes previously disclosed offtake agreements for CCT to continue making Cooper- branded products, including Roadmaster radial truck tires, through mid-2018, Cooper said. "Resolving the ownership of CTT has been a key goal for us, and we are pleased t have it completed as we continue to execute our long-term growth plans for China," said Cooper Chairman, CEO and President Roy Armes. Securing the offtake agreements is designed to provide a secure source of product while allowing Cooper the flexibility to identify and develop alternative sources for these tires, Mr. Armes said. This process could include an agreement with another supplier, a joint venture, an acquisition, adding capacity to other Cooper plants, buying a facility and running it or building a new plant, Mr. Armes said. "We have the financial capacity to take any of these paths or a combination that best serves our business and our customers," he added. Chengshan Group disclosed Oct.8 that it planned to exercise its option to acquire Cooper's 65- percent stake in the venture. At $262 million, the agreed to sale price puts the value of the venture at just over $400 million, or below the approximate "fair market value" determined by an independent firm hired by Cooper.
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