The off-the-road (OTR) tire market is a roller coaster ride: up one year, down the next. Tim Easter, Director of OTR sales for Yokohama Tire Corporation (YTC) and a 27-year OTR industry veteran, has seen it all. Here he looks at what causes the OTR tire market to change so frequently and what the outlook is for the rest of 2016 and beyond.
Question: How’s the overall OTR market been so far in 2016?
Tim Easter: Certain industries are doing well, but mining is down considerably, causing the total market to trend down this year.
Question: Do you think it’s going to recover in 2017?
Easter: It’s difficult to tell. The election is probably going to play a big factor, especially in regards to the mining industry.
Question: Why is the mining industry struggling?
Easter: A lot has to do with gold and copper commodity prices. The prices are down, and it costs more to extract the ore. Plus, regulatory restrictions on how coal is mined and used have impacted the coal industry adversely.
Question: Traditionally, the OTR market seems to always fluctuate. Is this downturn normal or something completely different?
Easter: We always say that the OTR market is a very peak-and-valley type of industry. For the coal industry, it’s been down for almost 5 years now – that’s a little bit long. But overall, I would say this one may be a little longer than we’ve seen in the past, but it’s definitely a normal trend of the OTR industry.
Question: Are there any other trends you see that could affect the industry?
Easter: Trends in the OTR industry are driven by many things, from the economy to government regulations to how many containers are shipped across the ocean. The new super freighters, for example, can ship more containers so that could have a positive effect on port business.
Question: The OTR radial market seems to be really taking off. Will it continue?
Easter: Yes, the market share percentage is much higher in the radial segment than bias, which is why we we’re adding a lot of new products on the radial side. We built our first OTR radial tire in 1998 and have gradually added products. Now we’re getting more into larger sized radials – what we call support sizes – to have a full line of radial products to complement our bias products.
Question: What would be the biggest reason for your customers to buy the Yokohama brand when it comes to radials?
Easter: We’re a recognized name in the industry and known for quality bias ply products by long-term customers. Our radial products are no different. We’re confident that expanding in the radial market will be a success due to having great relationships with our customers and end-users.
Question: What’s Yokohama’s OTR product line-up for MINExpo?
Easter: We’ll be showcasing our surface mining giant radials – we’re going to have 57-, 51- and 49-in. sizes on display – as well as underground coal mining tires. We’ve just introduced a new 15-in. bias ply underground mining tire, our Y67, so we’ve got a full line-up now of the underground low seam 15- and 20-in. sizes.
Question: Do OTR tires need more testing than commercial or consumer?
Easter: I haven’t worked on commercial or consumer tires from a new product development standpoint, but I know OTR tires take a lot of testing. We do everything from the initial drum testing at the factory to field testing. We go through different versions of the tire – we call it V1, 2, 3, 4. Then we’ll make changes to improve the product before mass production. Yokohama has always been very patient and strives to get the best product to the market.
Question: Do you see Yokohama continuing in the bias market?
Easter: Absolutely. Yokohama’s known for their bias ply products. I don’t see us moving away from that niche-market business. That’s been one of Yokohama’s strong points.
Question: How is Yokohama’s OTR effort going in Mexico?
Easter: It’s growing and that’s another strong point of Yokohama’s as the OTR market in Mexico continues to expand. As we get more of these new giant radial tires it’s going to really take off. Yokohama is a well-accepted brand in Mexico.
Question: Is the North American OTR market a priority for Yokohama?
Easter: Very much so. When looking at Yokohama’s global OTR sales, North America accounts for a large percentage of the OTR tires produced at our Onomichi plant in Japan. Add to that the demands from Mexico and Canada – which are growing markets – and you’ll see we’re definitely committed to the North American OTR market for the long-term.