Aftermarket

SmartWay List Swells with Cheap Chinese Tires

Will these new cheaper tires on the list -- some as low as $100-$150 -- save you money?

August 2015, TruckingInfo.com - WebXclusive

by Jim Park, Equipment Editor - Also by this author

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Will an increasing number of cheap imported tires cause a rise in the amount of roadside tire debris? Photo by Jim Park.
Will an increasing number of cheap imported tires cause a rise in the amount of roadside tire debris? Photo by Jim Park.
What's happening to the U.S. Environmental Agency's SmartWay list of verified fuel saving truck tires? Last year, there were 325 steer, drive, all-position and trailer tires on the list. In the last year alone 287 tires were added to the list, bringing the number of verified tires to 612, an 88% increase. In addition, the number of tire brands has more than doubled, from 93 to 193. Those stats come from our sister publication, Modern Tire Dealer, who reported on the change earlier this year. A great portion of the new entrants to the SmartWay list are from overseas, China in particular.

"There are a couple Chinese brands that make some good truck tires now, but they are not as cheap as some of the new additions to the SmartWay list."

This massive influx of tire brands may offer a broader selection for the consumer, but it isn't necessarily anything to stand up and cheer about. Retreaders are nervous about it. At some point, it may also grab the attention of safety advocates and the enforcement community. The prices of some of the tires on the list are too low to ignore, but you have to think about what you're not getting for your money.

When I first saw the vastly expanded list, I was struck by the number of brand names I have never heard of. So, I decided to pick out a few names and do a little research. I Googled about a dozen of the names and tire models. Several didn't even show up in a search, but many did, and when I checked pricing I found they were offered in the $100 to $150 range.

Many of the tires I googled were available only on E-Bay, and several of those were offered by the manufacturer in container lots only, directly from the manufacturer, paid in advance of shipping.

There were others that apparently have gained a marketing foothold here and were available at retail, but not through traditional tire outlets; rather, through import/export businesses and other locations that I suspect are not traditional tire service centers.

Before we go any further, it should be noted that not all Chinese tires are to be feared. Several manufacturers are now offering good quality tires that can be retreaded, often multiple times. These brands have been in the North American market for a while, and their makers have learned through experience what it takes to produce a competitive tire for this market.

"There are a couple Chinese brands that make some good truck tires now, but they are not as cheap as some of the new additions to the SmartWay list," says Peggy Fisher, president of Tire Stamp and long-time participant in many of ATA's Technology and Maintenance Council's tire task forces. "They do provide fleets that are looking for a decent but inexpensive tire an alternative to first- and second-tier tires."

According to Harvey Brodsky, managing director of the Retread Tire Association, Chinese manufacturers have done their research, and they know now that U.S. carriers will not go back to a tire they have had repeated bad experiences with.

Many of the recent influx of inport are out-and-out knock-offs of recognized Tier 1 brands. Be aware of what you're buying. You can't get a Tier 1 tire for $150 unless it's hotter than a firecracker. Photo by Jim Park
Many of the recent influx of inport are out-and-out knock-offs of recognized Tier 1 brands. Be aware of what you're buying. You can't get a Tier 1 tire for $150 unless it's hotter than a firecracker. Photo by Jim Park

"They understand that if they want to eat our lunch, which they are doing, they will need to increase the quality their product," he says. "Otherwise it's just going to be a one-time buy."

Names like DoubleCoin, Sailun, Hercules, Aeolus, Roadmaster and others, including familiar names that are manufactured in China, have passed the market test and are commonly found on North American wheel ends.

"Those trusted names won't cost next to nothing like some of these newer brands do," says Brodsky. "Some of them are solid Tier 3 tires now, but I know DoubleCoin, for one, has set its targets on becoming a Tier 2 tire within five years."

What do you get for $150?

What do you get for $150? Not much that would interest a large, profitable fleet.

Fisher says she believes some of the tires, despite being on the SmartWay list, are coming in with no DOT codes, which makes them illegal to sell in the U.S. She also cautions that these companies may not stand behind the warranties they offer.

"Fleets should be reminded to always look at cost per mile when making a tire purchase decision," she says. "Often the cheapest tire is not the most cost effective.

"I believe the people that are buying these $150 drive tires are running on their shoe strings," he says. "Those kinds of tires can make sense when $150 is all you have in your pocket."

Interestingly, that price point is what you could expect to pay for a quality retread on your own casing – and that has retreaders looking over their shoulders.

Many of the cheap imports cannot be retreaded. That's one thing that separates the cheap Chinese tires from the good ones. Photo courtesy of Michelin
Many of the cheap imports cannot be retreaded. That's one thing that separates the cheap Chinese tires from the good ones. Photo courtesy of Michelin

"Retreaders have a hard enough time convincing some fleets to retread, and it's going to get tougher when fleets catch on to the fact they can buy a new tire for the same price as a retread, or even less," says Broadsky. "It's not such a problem for retreaders with major service contracts with big Top 100 fleets. They know enough to steer clear of the cheap junk. It's the smaller, less sophisticated fleet our members are worried about. They are still a large part of the market."

Fisher agrees, adding, "Many of these tires are not retreadable in the first place, but they are taking the place of retreads and hurting the retreading industry. You may recall that cheap imported tires were the death of the passenger retread industry. They are certainly a threat to truck tire retreading now, although the big, profitable fleets will never buy them."

SmartWay

So how did these tires wind up on the SmartWay list? SmartWay does none of its own testing; it accepts manufacturer's test data and if that data meet its standards, the program verifies the tire.

"It is relatively easy to become a SmartWay verified tire," Fisher says. "All tire manufacturers have to do is provide proof that their "fuel efficient" tire saves at least 3% or more in fuel consumption relative to their own best-selling new tires for line haul tractors when used on all three axles. There is probably a very wide range of fuel efficiency when you compare tires on the SmartWay list. It is likely that most [of these cheap] Chinese tires are not what we would consider fuel-efficient at all when compared to the Tier I tire manufacturers' SmartWay-verified tires."

Earlier, I mentioned the safety advocates and law enforcement as parties of interest in this discussion. We all know that roadside tire debris attracts a lot of unwanted attention, and the DOT has tire damage and condition guidelines in its out-of-service criteria. Therefore, it's reasonable to ask what might happen if these tires manage to gain a decent toe-hold in the market, and then start popping all over the place.

With fleet maintenance practices being what they are, we can probably expect a high failure rate from inferior quality tires. Photo courtesy of Goodyear.
With fleet maintenance practices being what they are, we can probably expect a high failure rate from inferior quality tires. Photo courtesy of Goodyear.

Tire maintenance isn't most fleets' strongest suit, and for the fleets likely to buy and use these tires, it might be close to non-existent. If we were to see a rash of tire failures, one has to wonder if officials will stop to consider the source of the debris, or just launch a crackdown on everyone for poor tire maintenance.

One has to assume good Tier 1 or 2 tires at $500 or so will be more tolerant of abuse or neglect than a tire costing 20% of that.

"You have to consider what you're getting for $100," stresses Brodsky. "If you were to weigh a brand new Tier 1 11R22.5 tire, you'd find it weighs about 120 pounds. If you weighed one of those really cheap Chinese tire, I'd bet my paycheck it would weigh no more than 80 or 90 pounds. You're not getting high quality rubber or steel in that tire. Where's the muscle? You can't build a high quality tire for that kind of money."

Our sister publication, Modern Tire Dealer, printed the full list in its June issue dedicated to truck tires. It's available here. Or you can visit the SmartWay web page to view the original list for yourself.

Comments

  1. 1. Robert Orcutt, Fleet Ser [ August 24, 2015 @ 04:42AM ]

    Excellent timely article that should be of interest to all people using tires commercially. Why wasn't the research used to generate this article presented?,or at least credits for it so your readers don't have to do it all over again to find out which tires are which. Also, why do you use phrases like Tier 1,2,3 tires without an exact definition?

    ROBERT ORCUTT
    FLEET SERVICE MGR.
    ONEONTA BLOCK CO.

  2. 2. JL [ August 24, 2015 @ 05:43AM ]

    Great article. Good quality tires are well worth the initial expense. I hope Smart Way and the safety control agencies take that into consideration. It seems like a lot of agencies are willing to sacrifice good quality for perceived short-term benefits.

  3. 3. Jim Farrell [ August 26, 2015 @ 07:01AM ]

    Spot on with this situation. An important consideration also is the environmental impact will be extreme, since most of these cheap "maypops" are not retreadable. These will increase the challenge with proper disposal.

  4. 4. DB [ August 30, 2015 @ 10:07AM ]

    What an unbelievable bad article and completely biased.

    For EVERY single tyre (unique serial number) we check the cost after disposal and again and again it show us that Chinese tyres gives us by FAR the best price per kilometer.

    Blow out / roadgators rates for well known brands are the same as for Chinese brands according to OUR data.
    Only retreads gives us much higer blow out rates throughout our fleet.

    Everybody his own, but our detailed numbers are not lying to us.

  5. 5. Dave [ September 02, 2015 @ 11:22AM ]

    This illustrates the problem with Smart Way...it is not the environmentally good badge it is cracked up to be.

    DB...years of fleet management has taught me that "numbers" can be manipulated..on purpose or by accident...to show almost anything as the "right" decision. If your numbers show that the Chinese tires are working for you...I would suggest you really look at how you value certain event costs over a tires life. Most colleagues I know that have come to your conclusions, when their numbers are scrutinized have made some errors that when corrected...show very different results.

    As for retreads...any fleet having "blowouts" with retreads needs to not only carefully examine the processes of their retreader, but seriously examine their own tire maintenance program. An honest look can reveal things that may make retreading a good or not so good idea depending on your operation. Most fleets I've looked at with blow out issues, the problem is the fleet first, the retread second.

    Your mileage may vary.

  6. 6. Jim Park [ September 05, 2015 @ 09:29AM ]

    In response to DB's comments, as I noted in the article a number of Chinese brand-name tires are giving the North American tier 3 and tier 2 tires a run for their money. Some brands are a good investment in certain circumstances, but there are many tires now on the SW list that are of questionable value. If I ran an operation that chew up tires by the hundreds, like hauling scrap metal for example, I would be happy to throw on a $100 tire versus a $300 tire that probably would not last any longer due to be shredded by shards of steel. The $100 tire makes more sense in that instance. I have serious doubts that a $100 tire would last 250,000 miles in a linehaul operation, no matter how carefully it was maintained. Buy the tire that suits your application, look after it, and it will return your investment.

  7. 7. Darry W Stuart [ September 14, 2015 @ 04:45AM ]

    Round, Black and Plenty of Rubber, supported by a strong servicing dealer where costs are determined by 32nds. Although I am sure that there is some marginal quality of some no name imported tires, there maybe a place for cost effective tires with minimum concerns for retread ability. Seven years ago Double Coin and a few others had many of the same comments, many touting that the tires were junk, unsafe and no good and that imported Chinese tires were a problem. Hind site 20/20, Today that decision was a strong alternative back then to rising tires costs when survival for some was the choice of a different direction, alarming tier 1 tire manufactures to understand choices were here and real. This is just evolution of a tire of choice pricing revolution. At the end of the day it is about total cost, tires just being the current target because of low hanging fruit, some red apples have worms but you can carve out the impurities. In my experience it is more about the tire maintenance program as opposed to the choice of tire or recaps. We blame the retread, but forget all the debris on the roadways causing the escaping of air, starting the failure process. For those who remember the Pirelli truck tire imports in the late sixties sparked higher quality US tire radials...priced drove the change and radial tire growth. Italy and France then, China today, watch India tomorrow folks. Same story, different day.

  8. 8. Ken Eggen [ September 18, 2015 @ 08:06AM ]

    I have both sold and operated Chines manufactured tires. Just like many other products there are good and bad. Do the research, be sure they have a DOT#, be sure there is manufacturer support, be sure that you maintain them.

  9. 9. Ted [ August 14, 2016 @ 12:07PM ]

    I pay more attention to tires than engines. Tires go flat or lose air for many reasons. I put a "tire sealant" called ​Stallion Sahara​ in every tire before even plating my equipment. It increases the life expectancy of my tires, even better my on-time delivery rate went 'way up. My drivers like it, no downtime on the road waiting for a tire call-out truck meant they racked up the miles and were home or at the destination when they should have been there. Driver turnover is down, on-time schedules are up and tire costs are down.
    Ted​ ​Campbell

 

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