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Column: Don't like rankings, but still look

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I have a confession to make. I'm not a fan of the rubber industry rankings published in this issue of Rubber & Plastics News.

That doesn't mean I don't look at them. There's something about a list that fulfills a human need: college football rankings, Letterman's Top 10, Forbes' ranking of the richest people. The marketing people who infest the internet know this, which is why “The 10 Hottest Actresses” and “20 Fallacies of Global Warming,” replete with ads, demand attention when you are reading something of more weight on the Web.

I'm torn between being a human and looking at such lists, and being a journalist and discounting the stuff as guesswork or opinion. Not quite the truth, which doesn't work well for me.

Why does it matter if Bridgestone is the largest rubber company in the world by sales? Or a bunch of Chinese tire makers are moving up in the rankings? Or that the biggest non-tire rubber product maker is ... well, I'll have to look at the list.

It gives a company bragging rights, which is marketing, the state religion in the U.S. A truly meaningful number would be unit sales or better yet, net profits, the real bottom line. You won't find that in a ranking that includes so many privately held manufacturers, as well as divisions of larger companies that don't break down data.

I fully understand the reluctance to disclose such information. I'm not telling anyone my net income, either.

I can complain about our rankings because I invented them, and then spent about a decade trying to kill them. They are interesting to the reader, but the imperfect results and extreme difficulty in getting the information always bothered me. Are we purveyors of half-truths? Or are these listings the best you'll find in the business?

Probably true on both counts. If imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, a number of publications and websites over the years love our lists since they so often stole and ran them as their own. The Top 75 Global Tire Companies ranking, which predates the creation of the industry rankings in this issue, always has been such a target.

I will admit I always have been a sucker for some listings and numbers. I still read the box score of a ballgame rather than the wrap-up. I used to pour over the Automotive News' auto production statistics when I was a kid (really!), since my father was a supervisor at Ford. Go Ford! Beat GM!

These, though, were definitive statistics, reliable numbers. Unless the company is publicly held, financial data collection is a crapshoot.

The rankings in this issue, and the Global Tire Industry listings later this year, are the best you'll find about the rubber industry. I just wish they could be perfect. Call that wishful thinking.

Noga is a contributing editor for RPN and its former editor. He can be reached at elnmails@yahoo.com.