Aeolus going green

Aeolus going green By: Jeff Yip August 29, 2011

The east is green.

That was the overarching message Chinese tire manufacturer Aeolus Tyre Co. Ltd. wanted to convey to dozens of VIPs, including government and industry officials and global business partners, invited in July to a conference in Jiaozuo on its environmental initiatives.

But the Chinese, who revere family and relationships, also wrapped the serious stuff in a joyous party to celebrate what amounts to three new "children" that could hold a key to the company's future:

* A sprawling new factory;

* A new line of truck tires Aeolus claims deliver up to 7-percent better fuel economy;

* The addition of passenger tires to its portfolio, both for export and China's booming consumer market. (See accompanying story, page 33.)

The manufacturer's new Aeolus Green Tyre-branded (Agt) tires-targeted initially at the European market-will be kinder to the environment in several ways.

Not only will tires bearing the Agt label comply with the European Union's REACH limitations on toxic polycyclic aromatic oil, they will feature lower rolling resistance that will pay off in improved on-road fuel economy, Aeolus executives said.

U.S. customers could see the improved products by next summer, according to Alliance Tire Americas Inc., the Chinese firm's exclusive U.S. distributor for its truck and OTR tires.

"I anticipate we will see green production truck tires in the U.S. by mid-year 2012, with more sizes and patterns released throughout the year," said John Hull, Alliance national tire sales manager. The tread patterns, he added, will probably not be the same as the Euro-spec tires.

Alliance Tire may preview the line at the upcoming Specialty Equipment Market Association trade show in Las Vegas. The Agt is made using state-of-the-art methods and technology that are safer for plant workers, conserve resources, and reduce noise and harmful emissions, according to Aeolus. Some specific changes include preprocessing of chemicals into pellets and wet pelletizing carbon black to reduce dust emissions.

Aeolus' "green" approach tackles environmental concerns on several fronts. More automation and low-temperature processes will reduce energy consumption, gas emissions and waste water, thanks to an enclosed water recycling system.

The manufacturer has set lofty goals for the new line of tires, including 30-percent longer lasting tread life through new tread compounds and design, optimizing the tire's footprint and pressure distribution. Behind updated styling will be materials that help the tire run cooler and vector balancing of green tires during curing that will improve uniformity and balance. Part of the green tire program means tires receive rigorous inspections, including X-ray and dynamic testing.

The truck products also will be more suited for retreading, Aeolus said, because of the use of oxidation-resistant sidewall compounds, 100-percent bromobutyl innerliners and a four-steel-belt construction. Aeolus also touts partnerships with Bekaert S.A. for steel cord and Cabot Corp. for carbon black.

Wang Feng, Aeolus' charismatic vice president and general manager, said through an interpreter the company is out to shatter what he calls pervasive, and in Aeolus' case, unfair perceptions in the U.S. that Chinese tires are synonymous with lower quality and lumped in with fourth-tier suppliers.

"It is Aelous' intention to be one of the top 10 manufacturers in the world. We're focusing on overseas markets," he said. While going green means higher production costs, Mr. Wang hinted that prices would remain competitive. "We don't want to give burdens to our customers," he said. "We will have promotions to teach dealers how to sell the added value of their green tires."

Mr. Wang, who has an engineering background, said the REACH (Registration, Evaluation, Authorization and Restriction of Chemical substances) regulations aren't the only reasons why Aeolus is very "willing to take the social responsibility to go green.

"You can see all the workers and the staff on the production lines have very tough work. …We think that human beings, wherever they work, should have a clean environment. You can see things opening and the reforms taking place in China. The national view for the environmental protection and focus on healthy protection has increased a lot. People know that every factory should be human-being oriented."

It should be noted the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency said it "does not have, nor is it developing regulations or guidelines to limit the amount of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), which may be present in tires or extender oils used in the manufacture of tires."

Aeolus, whose parent firm is China National Chemical Corp. (ChemChina), had speeches and a panel discussion on its Agt program.

The VIPs on the panel discussion included Sun Likun, Jiaozuo mayor; Fan Rende, president of the China Rubber Industry Association; Zhou Xianhui deputy secretary of the China Petroleum and Chemical Industry Federation; Manoj Mehta, general manager of Goodyear global sourcing; Manny Cicero, president of Alliance Tire Americas; Robert Sherkin, CEO of Dynamic Tire Corp.; and Jan Heuver of Heuver Tyre Wholesale.

Alliance Tire has been Aeolus' U.S. distributor since 2010, when it bought the assets of bankrupt GPX International Tire Co. Alliance markets the Aeolus-brand tires through its wholesale and full-service dealers, said John Hull, a truck tire veteran who runs Alliance's Aeolus truck tire program.

Dynamic Tire Corp. of Brampton, Ontario, handles the brand in Canada.

Mr. Hull said he has been impressed with Aeolus' product quality as well as the responsiveness of the company's research-and-development staff. Comparisons of different Chinese tire cross-sections have shown that the Aeolus products' belt packages have good uniformity and consistency, which help preserve the integrity of the casings.

"Seeing is believing, even when you are talking about tires," Mr. Hull said. "Ultimately, performance is measured on the truck, but it sure helps to give confidence to the salespeople that Aeolus is a cut above the competition."

One performance aspect that officials from Alliance and its European counterpart, Heuver Tyre Wholesale, said they will be monitoring is the fuel economy of the Aeolus' Agt line. Aeolus claims testing shows that its HN369 Agt tire, in size 315/80R22.5, showed about 24-percent less rolling resistance than the company's conventional tire. The manufacturer says that should result in 5- to 7-percent gains in fuel economy. Comparisons with competitor tires were not given.

"The best thing we can do for Aeolus is give them good market data so we can stay competitive," Mr. Hull told Tire Business. "This, along with solid performance data, is critical. We have worked with R&D on new tread patterns and a few new applications, as well as rolling-resistance testing for SmartWay certification."

Aeolus' new $150 million tire factory in Jiaozuo already is at full production, making 80,000 radial OTR tires annually. Production of radial passenger tires will start early next year, with a rated annual capacity of 8 million tires. Employment will hit 3,000 at full capacity.

Aeolus' original factory, built in 1965 and staffed with about 5,000 employees, produces up to 5 million radial truck/bus tires and 600,000 bias OTR tires per year.

Together, the plants encompass about 14 million square feet of space.

Jeff Yip is a Houston-based freelancer who regularly writes for Tire Business.


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