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The downside of weight reduction

‘Bibendum’ – the name given to the iconic tyreman says it all. As human obesity has more and more been frowned upon the poor fellow has increasingly slimmed down by the Michelin PR department. In fact in the last few decades the poor chap has lost half his bulk.

There was a time when weight meant something. Reassurance, safety and quality even.

Now it is a definite no, no.

I started thinking along these lines in a roundabout manner.

When it comes to tyre manufacturing tonnage throughput is quite critical to the economics of any production unit given the high capital cost of tyre manufacturing. Reduce throughput and the economics of the operation quickly look rather sick. Traditionally, Asian countries have tended to produce tyres that are considered overly heavy by European and North American standards and for a good reason. In their domestic market often poor road surfaces and severe over loading make ‘over design’ essential but with that comes significant extra cost.

The USA’s most recent round of ill-judged anti-dumping duties on Chinese truck tyres illustrate the conundrum some Chinese producers find themselves just now as they try to re-direct their products away from North America and into the competitive European market place. Some fortunate enough to have established overseas production facilities outside of China have been able to continue to supply North America from these ‘off-shore’ locations but others are not so lucky. Of course, the already over-supplied markets await but over supply brings with it a further reduction in prices which some of these over-engineered products find it difficult to meet. Taking weight out of a product while maintaining its structural and performance integrity can be a difficult and costly technical challenge for which the pay back may be small, it is the price however of being competitive in European markets. Even to this there is a downside as it further erodes factory throughput weights back home in China so undermining the operational viability of weaker players even more. This could be a bit of an end-game.

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