Winning a major contract with one of the UK’s largest bus fleets is not necessarily all about price; although price clearly matters.
Environmental management is becoming a key priority for operators in deciding on tyre partners. Steve Banner reports
Other factors enter into the equation, not the least of them being the environmental credentials of the supplier concerned. No responsible, high-profile, operator will want to forge links with a business that has a cavalier attitude towards waste disposal; especially if the business’ conduct is likely to result in a prosecution, a conviction and a hefty fine.
There is such a thing as guilt by association.
Instead, the operator is more likely to want to know how a prospective supplier will help it burnish its own green credentials and reduce its impact on the environment.
Michelin’s green policies have clearly met with Go-Ahead’s approval, and that is a key reason why it has just extended its 21-year relationship with the global tyre giant.
The tyre maker is highly-placed in Go-Ahead’s latest sustainability ratings. They grade over 20 of its largest suppliers in terms of how they are helping the group shrink its carbon footprint, energy consumption and particulate emissions and increase its levels of recycling.
Where tyre manufacturers are concerned that means ensuring their products can be successfully retreaded and re-grooved and that the casings they use last as long as possible; and that they can be disposed of in an environmentally-friendly manner once they have reached the end of their working lives.
The price-per-mile agreement between Michelin and Go-Ahead covers some 95 per cent of the latter’s 4,800 vehicles operating out of more than 50 depots. The former is managing the deal under the Effitires banner.
The Michelin X InCity tyres being fitted feature reinforced sidewalls to help protect them against kerbing and accidental damage.
The package is a financially-attractive one for Go-Ahead says group chief engineer (bus) Jim Collins.
“We regularly test the market to see if we are getting the best deal possible for our business,” he observes. “Michelin continues to prove it is competitive on price and we have never had any doubts about the quality of its tyres.”
They are certainly durable according to Salsburgh, North Lanarkshire-based Bruce’s Coaches.
It trialled 315/80 R22.5 X MultiWay 3D XZE drive-axle tyres on Caetano Levante coaches on its 14-strong National Express fleet and they lasted for 380,000km. That is 130,000km ahead of the average 250,000km achieved by a competitor brand’s premium product that was previously fitted.
Bruce’s entire National Express fleet is now shod with Michelins.
Not that Michelin is having things all its own way.
Last year saw Goodyear win a three-year contract to supply Warrington’s Own Buses with tyres. Formerly operating as Network Warrington, the 90-vehicle-plus Cheshire-based fleet is owned and run by Warrington Borough Council.
On the product development side, Goodyear has come up with Marathon Coach. It features an asymmetric tread design which should help address uneven wear and make high mileages more likely, says the company.
Bridgestone secured a five-year contract with Stagecoach that covers its 9,500 UK vehicles. They will increasingly be running on UAP-001 tyres supported by Bridgestone’s Total Tyre Care management package.
“It’s our biggest European fleet contract ever,” says Bridgestone commercial sales director Greg Ward.
The package focuses among other things on ensuring tyre pressures are maintained at the correct levels and that tyres are not removed prematurely. Bridgestone’s Bandag operation has a role to play, retreading casings to help Stagecoach achieve a lower cost per kilometre over the life of each tyre.
Bridgestone has set up a tyre technician training and accreditation centre at the sprawling Horiba Motor Industry Research Association complex just outside Nuneaton in Warwickshire.
Working with commercial vehicle wheel distributor MWheels, it has recently launched a wheel safety education programme for employees, customers and other interested parties using both classroom learning and hands-on experience on a custom-built rig. The course covers wheel design, construction, fitting and general maintenance as well as an understanding of the role of axles, nuts and threads.
MWheels has produced a white paper entitled Evaluating commercial vehicle wheel safety – how to keep safe and stay compliant which can be downloaded from its website (www.mwheels.co.uk). The firm reports that it is working with the Department for Transport on ways in which official inspection manuals can be enhanced to improve wheel safety.
The MWheels product portfolio includes Xlite and Xbrite forged aluminium wheels, for which it has exclusive European distribution rights.
The danger that a wheel will come off while a bus or coach is in motion and the calamity that could ensue is an area of concern for all responsible operators.
The risk can be mitigated by paying more attention to wheel maintenance – dirty or corroded mating surfaces mean that wheel nuts can soon work loose after being tightened – and the level of torque that is applied to the nuts.
Too high, and the studs can be fractured. Too low, and the nuts will loosen.
Recognising these dangers, Bridgestone has launched an app which gives the correct torque settings for a variety of vehicles, including buses and coaches.
While they are no substitute for proper maintenance and getting the torque values right – or for replacing wheels that are so bashed and battered that they should no longer be in service – various devices are available that make wheel loss less likely.
Among them is Wheely-Safe, which can detect whether a wheel is working loose. A UK invention, it was about to become available at the time of writing and is being marketed worldwide through Michelin.
Straddling two nuts on a wheel, it is kept in place by a corrosion-resistant zinc-nickel-coated mild steel bracket. If the nuts begin to loosen then a switch opens and a radio signal is transmitted to a display in the cab to alert the driver to the danger. The batteries that power the signal should last for from three to five years before they need replacing.
Wheely-Safe can also monitor tyre pressures and signal an alert if a wheel hub or a brake’s friction materials are starting to overheat. It can be integrated into an onboard telematics system so that a fleet manager can be alerted to any problem that has arisen; and take appropriate action.
Onboard TPMS – Tyre Pressure Monitoring Systems – are attracting increasing attention, not just on safety grounds but because tyres that are either over- or under-inflated are liable to wear out prematurely.
Continental has launched a ContiConnect Live app which warns operators if there is a tyre pressure or temperature problem on any of their vehicles. It is also rolling out a depot-based monitoring package with a reader station which automatically checks tyre pressures and temperatures as buses and coaches enter and leave the premises.
The data gleaned is sent to the ContiConnect web portal. Any make of tyre can be fitted with a ContiPressureCheck sensor.
Continental makes the point that under-inflating a tyre by 20 per cent can reduce its in-service life by around 18 per cent. Furthermore, the internal damage done by persistent under-inflation can render the casing unsuitable for retreading.
Automatically checking pressures as vehicles go in and out of a depot is not a new idea. Some time ago WheelRight developed a system that monitors pressure levels as a bus or coach drives over sensors, identifies any problem tyres and reports the information to the workshop.
Other leading tyre manufacturers offering onboard TPMS include Bridgestone, which has come up with FleetPulse. As well as a TPMS it includes a mobile Android app and a centralised cloud-based web site.
The app can be used for daily walk-around checks allowing information on any defects spotted plus tyre pressure data to be relayed to the site so that prompt action can be taken by management.
The bus and coach tyre market is not lacking in competition, with Michelin-owned BF Goodrich recently launching a range of tyres for 17.5in, 19.5in, and 22.5in fitments.
Hankook has developed the SmartTouring DL22. Intended for drive axles, it is said to provide useful additional traction in snow and carries M+S (Mud and Snow) and 3PMSF (Three Peak Mountain Snow Flake) ratings.
One source of competition has been choked off however; the European Union has decided to slap tariffs on imports of low-cost heavy commercial vehicle tyres from China amid accusations of dumping.
Operators who have selected some of the cheaper Chinese tyres that have been marketed bearing unfamiliar brands and made in obscure factories in the country’s hinterland may have had cause to regret their decision. They do not last anywhere near as long as premium products and their casings are invariably rejected by retreaders.
Turning to tyre distributors and dealers, one of the most significant recent developments is ATS Euromaster’s decision to merge its bus, coach, heavy truck and trailer operation with that of Eastleigh, Hants-based Tructyre. The Euromaster Group bought Tructyre in October 2017.
The merger creates the biggest British service provider specialising in the supply of tyres and related management services to heavy vehicle operators, says ATS Euromaster. Comments Tructyre founder and chief executive officer Glenn Sherwood: “We will also be in the unique position of having the only truly consistent national offering for local, regional and national heavy fleet customers.”